15 May, 2009

Swine flu

Only healthy travellers pass through Blowing Point. Most sensible people recognised that this whole H1N1 Influenza A pandemic panic was a media-driven frenzy from the start. Mexico had the worst of it. A few hundred people were infected. A total of 26 died. Deaths elsewhere from infection have been minimal. As of Tuesday, total worldwide deaths stood at 53. The math shows there is a 1 in 250 or 0.4% chance of dying. A normal annual winter flu outbreak would cause more fatalities than this one has. The H5N1 avian flu episode last year produced more fatalities. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed an estimated 30 million. The 1957 pandemic killed two million. Even the 1968 pandemic killed a million. If people die from flu in the Southern hemisphere this coming winter, and many thousands will die, the betting is it will be from the common flu, not swine flu.

Just as the epidemic everywhere in the Northern hemisphere is in decline, we in Anguilla have to show our solidarity with stupidness and join in the frenzy.

Have you seen the new form they give you to fill out when you land in Anguilla? I understand this form is part of a regional initiative, and was not invented in Anguilla. It looks like this:

As you hustle with 40-odd other passengers for a place in the queue at Blowing Point, an Immigration Officer appears. She tells you that you must fill out this swine flu questionnaire. You have to do it before you get to Immigration. So, you fill it out while standing and being jostled in line. You take it to Immigration. The officer looks at it. She gives it back to you. She tells you to hand it in to Customs. Customs looks at it, and tosses it aside.

Or, you are among the hundreds of visitors from St Martin for the Regatta last weekend. You are arriving at an “upscale tourist destination”. So, you have arrived on your mega yacht at Crocus Bay. Immigration makes everyone get off the boat. You take the dinghy to the beach. You find a taxi to take you to Sandy Ground. There, Immigration makes everybody fill out the form. By now, God alone knows how many people you have infected. Yes, I know you are not supposed to land at Crocus Bay, but they do.

Didn’t the designer of this form realise I am supposed to read it before I fill it in? Did he really intend to put that final notification at the end of the form for my information? It says clearly that if I answer “Yes” to any part of the questionnaire, I am to be isolated. “Isolated” means I am to be separated from my family that I am travelling with. I will be taken away, by force, if necessary. I will then be put through various Hospital procedures. It may take days, if not weeks, before I am allowed to go about my business or enjoy my holiday. In those circumstances, which fool would answer yes to any one of the questions? Which one of us is going to admit to ever having visited Mexico? I would suppress my cough even if I had to choke. Who would be so stupid as to admit to having sneezed in the past year.

Faced with the information at the bottom of this form, I would deny I had a fever anytime in the last ten years. Breathing would never have been easier than it is now. I would not admit to having had a sore throat since I was a child.

Whatever they intend to do with the hapless traveller who answers “Yes” to anything on this form, I think they should keep that last bit of information confidential. Let the officer spring it on him in ambush if he has answered “Yes”.

Next thing, we will be banning imports of pork meat.

Just because this is a government form does not mean that it is backed by law. It is not an Immigration form. Nor is it a Customs form. It is a hastily made up medical form. Has anybody even checked if it has the force of law behind it? Do I commit any offence if I fill it in falsely?

I seriously doubt it.


  1. Right. By next week there will be a new form. How come we can never seem to get it right one time?

  2. We have a government that consults the Ministers on whether the Ministers are corrupt, and then claim this to be evidence of why they are not guilty.

    Why then should we be surprised if these same geniuses ask possible disease carriers if they are infected with a contageous disease, and believe them if they claim to be "not guilty"?

  3. We're spending a huge amount of money on this Rainbow Airlines folly (the Tsarina says it's none of our business how much of our money she's spending on all these flights with no passengers that never leave the ground) and this is how we treat them when they get to our upmarket shores?

    Treat visitors as though they are our enemies and they will live up to our expectations.

  4. So, you are given the answer to the million dollar question while filling out the form so anyone with half a brain will answer "no" to all questions. Ignorant at best, laughable at worst. Typical failure. - Scotty

  5. The form has been revised and does not have the isolation section.

  6. Don, you underestimate the potential importance of this disease.

    The REAL concern, Don, among the medical community that KNOWS this disease, is that the 1918 Spanish flu (which you refer to) started like this... it was MILD for 6 months. Then a mutation occurred that killed the 30 million you refer to.

    So do not belittle the importance of this disease. The CDC is seriously concerned.

    Here's the issue... the next "killing pandemic" will be from an influenza subtype to which there is little, or no, preexisting immunity in humans. This virus has that ability. This virus may mutate and become the next great killer (for which we are long overdue).

    So yes... there's a lot of crazy over-reaction. And Immigration officers should have been trained to simply ask tourists, "Do you have a cold or a fever or have you been to Mexico lately," the same way they ask if they're bringing gifts in. Supposedly, they are trained to recognize lies. Asking verbally is faster, is certainly more effective, and avoids that last "you will be isolated" clause.

    Media and government public over-reaction reaches hysteria at times, yes. But for the first time, people with colds are not shaking hands out of concern of others. There is a genuine increased level of consciousness of reducing the spread of disease.

    And, at the end of the day, that's a good thing.


  7. "So yes... there's a lot of crazy over-reaction. And Immigration officers should have been trained to simply ask tourists, "Do you have a cold or a fever or have you been to Mexico lately"

    DonWatcher, so basically after enlightening us on the history and science of the influenza virus, you confirm Don's main point.

    If any media organization had put this outbreak into perspective by pointing out the possible dangers and at the same time reminding people that the "regular flu" kills 100,000 or more each year. That a cold is a "pandemic" meaning that it is in more than one country, and that the word doesn't imply fear and imminent doom, then maybe frenzy wouldn't have taken over the less educated that can derive those conclusions themselves.The danger of the media is that it doesn't make any money if it doesn't sensationalize every issue.Reporting the facts and putting them in perspective is seen as "oldfashioned". There should be much more regulation of a medium of influence that can cause widespread panic if misused. Media organizations should be held accountable by an international body that should have the power to penalize excessively harmful and untruthful media releases. Until the general public is educated to a level where these morons can't publish or broadcast drivel and send the world into a tailspin, there needs to be a watchdog to ensure great harm isn't done. Yes, we still need nannies even as grownups.

  8. Humans produce Vitamin D3 in their skin from sunlight. This is important for their immune system. During the winter (or rainy season in some places) people don't make enough Vitamin D and the flu hits them much worse. Any version of the flu, like the 1918 version, that can kill anyone after the "flu season" seems extra potent. When winter comes this new version might well kill lots of people. If it does get deadly, I recommend getting extra sun or taking vitamin D.

  9. Todays stats are 72 deaths out of 8,451 cases or 0.85%. So nearly 1 in 100 dies. If this continues over the whole planet, then many millions will die. No cause for alarm?


  10. "Why then should we be surprised if these same geniuses ask possible disease carriers if they are infected with a contageous disease, and believe them if they claim to be "not guilty"?"

    Basically the same form and same procedure is being used in all of the islands. Most likely it is an inititave of one of the regional health authorities.

  11. Funny how I get treated like Typhoid Mary everytime I come through Blowing Point. If immigration officials were trained to do more than just scowl and treat visitors rudely, they might just be able to spot the real one! - Scotty

  12. I believe the form was designed and suggested by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

    The poster above suggests that it's not our fault, because we have just blindly copied their stupidness.

    God help Anguilla.

  13. The flu virus mutates very quickly. Depending on how humans react different versions may spread slower or faster. The similarities can still be enough that if you get one and recover you will not get close relatives to that virus. In 1918 soldiers who got mild cases of the flu would stay in their trenches while those that got deadly cases would be moved. So the more deadly mutations spread faster. Reacting (even overreacting) to a virus that kills 1 in 100 slows down the spreed and gives us time to get less deadly mutations of this new version. As the new less deadly mutations of "swin flu" come out and spread they will act like a vacine against the more deadly original version. So these guys who are tracking down anyone who came into contact with someone who died of the flu and trying to keep them from spreading it really do change the dynamics of how the virus evolves.

    As long as society does not break down, and we don't have trench warfare again, we probably won't see 10s of millions die from a flu again.

  14. The word is that Anguilla has 44 doses of the anti-viral drugs that are used to combat swine flu. It is said we have ordered an additional 44. That’s enough for the hospital staff, a few of the police and all four Ministers.

    Remember the famous Dutch saying, "Ikke, ikke, en de rest kan stikken."

    "Me, me, and the rest can choke."


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