Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In flew Enza

"I had a little bird. Its name was Enza. I opened the window and in flew Enza." - Robert Leitch

I am thankful I was not alive in 1919. The psychic disturbance from the Great War was still raw and excruciating. Two examples: War wounded created an industry that would mutate into the plastic surgery of today. Mask makers and prosthetic artists were kept busy with men trying to reclaim some self-esteem with half their faces missing from shell fire or gas attack. What we now call post traumatic stress disorder was first recognised as shell shock.

To have this mindquake followed by the wretched and random Spanish Flu must have sapped even the most optimistic of souls. Such was the existential despair, the art world was assailed by Dadaism. Analyse that one, Sigmund.

So there's a certain reverence needed when referring to such times. Whenever Spanish Flu is used as a yardstick of misery, you've got to compare warily. The mandarins of spin had better make damned sure they don't mix their apples with oranges when it comes to this year's swine flu.

The almost sacrilegious abandon that hypothesised what would happen to NZ if we got a repeat of the Spanish flu, that had appeared on Monday with proclamations of how many corpses would stack up and what it would do to the GDP, have thankfully faded out by today. No links, you know who you are.

Those times are not these times. Medical science is more discreet with its leeches and bleeding someone to remove the bad blood is no longer considered appropriate treatment. OK, wrong century but you get the point. Tech upgrades and the benefit of hindsight means that we are better equipped than Spain '18. If in doubt, consult the MacDoctor.

The response from NZ's Health Ministry has been generally good. MacDoctor has pointed out some minor failings, such as the Healthline call centre ignorance, but generally appropriate nonetheless. The only quibble I can see is that it would be preferable to have infra-red imaging at the point of entry for incoming American traffic, but you use what you have.

Simple hygiene rules have been pushed. This is stuff that should be common practice already. Wash your hands before preparing food or after using the toilet. Keep your hands away from one's orifices to avoid infection (of any sort. Dave, the barber in the James Smith Market, taught me that one).

Health Minister Tony Ryall has said exactly the right thing at the right time, in the right manner. Some credit is also due to whichever Labour Health Minister (there were so many) over-reacted and went nuts buying Tamiflu when the avian flu was the latest apocalypse. It leaves NZ with a considerable comfort zone.

NZ will be fine. It's South America I feel sorry for. Like us, they're coming into flu season. Unless the Mexican government can parley insistently with the drug lords, it will only be a matter of time before the continent will incubate the strain. What havoc it will wreck on the slums of South America will more closely represent what happened when the Maori got hit with Spain '18.