Swine and wine

() - May 10, 2009 - 12:00am

What should have been the triumphant arrival of Manny Pacquiao complete with a ticker tape parade was dampened by Typhoon Emong and concerns about the possible spread of the swine flu virus. So instead of being wined and dined in Malacañang, what greeted Pacquiao were requests to be “quarantined,” or to at least postpone his arrival. Despite the advice of Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Pacquiao and his team went ahead with their homecoming, mobbed and followed everywhere by fans and media people.

Pacquiao’s disregard of the DOH advice was met with mixed reactions. Some criticized the Health official, saying he was “over-reacting.” I guess it was understandable that Pacquiao was dying to see his children — but a lot of Filipinos also felt that their boxing idol missed a golden opportunity to display his humility and show his concern for the public by going on a self-imposed quarantine and avoiding contact with masses of people at least for a few days.

Still others feel that those who should be quarantined are the congressmen who went to Vegas to watch the Pacquiao-Hatton fight, with their names revealed so that the public may be forewarned. As it is, jokes are starting to go around that compared to Mexico, the Philippines has a more lethal strain of swine flu than the AH1/N1 virus that has killed almost 50 people since its onset.

According to health experts, the virus could infect up to two billion people if there is a pandemic, with the disease becoming more dangerous as the weather gets colder. What’s worse is that this new virus — which combines human, swine and bird flu — seems to be evolving and there’s no telling where it will hit next. At this time, experts are still clueless about how it all started, although there are strong indications that it could have began in a hillside hamlet called La Gloria (Max Soliven used to call GMA “La Gloria”) in Vera Cruz, a region in Mexico surrounded by pig-breeding farms. However, they could not explain how an American boy in an industrial city in Ohio could have contracted swine flu just a couple of weeks after the first reported case in Mexico.

According to the World Health Organization, 23 countries and more than 2,000 people have been infected, with indications that the disease is “seeding itself in various parts of the world.” While the effects for now seem to be milder than the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, that is still no reason to be complacent, warned health experts. While the Philippines has not been as affected compared to other countries, there is no assurance that the virus will not hit us in the next few weeks or months.

Just like any ordinary flu, the symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, coughing, physical weakness — yet it is still possible for a carrier not to have any symptoms at all and still pass on the virus to others. Swine flu could be contracted by inhaling cough droplets (or even a sneeze) from an infected person within six meters, or by holding objects touched by a virus carrier. 

There are so many urban areas all over the country that are overpopulated, especially in Metro Manila with a lot of squatter communities overflowing with people living in wall-to-wall shanties. These places are potential breeding grounds for the spread of the disease, with the people living in them the most susceptible. Imagine if an infected person went around the mall, watched a movie and rode in a jeepney, a bus or any MRT or LRT train where people are squeezed so tightly they could hardly breathe. Add to this the tendency of Filipinos to self-medicate, with reports that even people who have not been displaying flu symptoms are taking Tamiflu - which could do more harm than good because it could make the virus resistant to the medication later.

We might as well over-react than be complacent because the potential for a pandemic is high. The administration seems to have gained the approval of the public by its decision to postpone a national day of celebration highlighted by Manny’s Palace reception. In any case, government seems to be better prepared at handling the swine flu situation, instituting thorough screening, monitoring and follow-up of suspected cases. 

It can be recalled that when the SARS virus broke out in 2003, the DOH tightened screening at all entry points to prevent the spread of the disease, and after a short period, was cleared by the WHO as SARS-free. It also helped that other agencies like the Department of Labor and Employment issued prevention tips to help minimize the spread of the virus in the workplace. In the end, only two deaths were reported in the Philippines out of the 700-plus fatalities worldwide. 

In the past, administration officials have been lambasted for being slow to react when disasters and calamities happen, only mobilizing people and resources after a lot of damage has been done. I agree with the actions taken by Secretary Duque even if some people think he is “over-reacting.” We can’t let our guard down and disregard something as serious as the swine flu virus because this could come back to us with a vengeance.

As a British health official (criticized for recommending the closure of schools and distributing antiviral drugs) said, he would rather have egg on his face than death on his hands. Forward-thinking officials like Duque should be commended rather than ridiculed. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry. The wealth of a nation are its people, and in this case, it is always applicable to remember the old saying that ‘health is wealth.”

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT FLU HEALTH HEALTH SECRETARY FRANCISCO DUQUE LA GLORIA MANNY PACQUIAO MAX SOLIVEN METRO MANILA PACQUIAO PEOPLE VIRUS
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