Homing in on a big, flu problem

You don’t feel sick, you don’t look sick, so you let your guard down and go about your business, even though you are supposed to be at home to curb the spread of a fatal virus.

By Raslan Sharif (The Star)

The other day, my children asked me what “quarantine” meant, having overheard my wife and I mention the word more than a few times over the past two weeks or so.

I told them “quarantine” is like when they’re told to go their room. No, I’m just kidding. I don’t send them to their room if they’re naughty … I lock them up in the store room.

Jokes aside, you can’t help but notice that “quarantine” is the word of the moment. It’s getting pretty close to the point where you wouldn’t be able to escape it even if you tried.

This is almost like the influenza A (H1N1) virus, which is kind of ironic, don’t you think? Speaking of the virus, or more precisely, writing of it, I think I can type “swine” faster than “A (H1N1)”.

I’ve been quarantined several times before, although not for anything as potentially fatal as influenza A (H1N1).

If I recall correctly, they were for bouts of eye infection – otherwise known as the equally difficult to type conjunctivitis – and chicken pox.

I had to stay in my room and not receive any visitors, except for courageous and selfless family members.

Each quarantine period lasted several days, which felt like several years as far as I was concerned. This was before the days of affordable computers, the Internet, and satellite TV, you must understand.

Thankfully, I had my books.

Before you accuse me of academic pretensions, let me tell you these were not school textbooks. Who, of their own free will, would want to read those?

I had dozens of science fiction and fantasy novels that I could re-read, to pass the time. It made the quarantine period bearable.

But I wouldn’t want to go through it again. Not for a million ringgit. Unless I am forced to, possibly upon pain of death.

So in a sense, I can understand why some people are not properly observing the home quarantine requirements they need to adhere to in the effort to prevent the spread of the influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Being under quarantine is dead boring. But what made it easier for me was that I did not only have an illness; I felt, and looked, ill.

I had burning, swollen eyes oozing pus or painful sores all over my face and body, also oozing pus. (Have I put you off your breakfast yet?)

Who in their right mind would want to appear in public feeling like that, let alone looking like that?

It is not the same for those who have to submit themselves to the home quarantine.

You don’t feel sick, you don’t look sick; so automatically you let your guard down and take liberties with what you are required to do.

That’s why you have people happily going about with their business, even though they are supposed to be at home. And that’s frustrating the health authorities no end.

Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican has had to plead for cooperation from the public, arguing that without such cooperation, “even the best of systems to control epidemics will not work”.

In addition, some parents of children who have had their schools closed to combat the spread of the virus seem to have applied a very limited definition of home quarantine. Although school is out, they still send their children to religious classes.

What is probably lost to these people is the fact that the self or home quarantine directive is not only aimed at preventing them or their children from catching the disease, it is also aimed at preventing them from spreading the disease.

And again, I have a possible explanation for this. After the initial fears of potentially high mortality rates when news of the new disease first broke out, fatalities have been relatively low – 53,110 cases worldwide, and “only” 232 deaths, or about 0.5% of those infected.

It has probably gotten to the point where many people are thinking that even if they get the disease or pass it on, the chances of dying are pretty low.

This is a highly irresponsible form of rationalising the issue, if you ask me.

Look at it this way: How would you feel if someone broke quarantine and passed on the disease to someone you loved, maybe one of your children, and your child later ends up as a “death” statistic.

Hardly a cause for celebration is it?

The same goes for people who have been infected but are refusing, for some reason or other, to provide a full list of who they had come into contact with.

The only reason I can think of for such selfishness is that they’ve been seeing people they weren’t supposed to be seeing. Maybe it’s a case of taking your chances with the virus, which probably wouldn’t kill you, rather than with, say, your wife, who definitely will.

All I can say is good luck.

> Raslan Sharif is dreading the thought of being quarantined at home … with his children. Aaargh.