If no intervention steps are taken, it is projected at least 20 % of our population will be affected

By A. Kathirasen (NST)

SOMEWHERE in Ulu Kinta, there is a school where teachers are anxiously waiting for the first confirmed case of influenza A (H1N1); not as in fearfully anxious but as in anxious with hope.

They are hoping for an early break in the school term. For, the Education Ministry is temporarily closing schools where students or staff are down with H1N1.

I was speaking on the telephone to a teacher at the school on Friday when she mentioned this.

And I can bet you some teachers in other schools are having similar hopes, too.

I'm sure I don't have to say anything about the attitude of students towards school. One student I spoke to said he was looking forward to an H1N1 holiday.


My niece, M.Vasuki, tells me students at her school in Pahang are having a whale of a time with the face masks they have been advised to wear by their teachers.

Many students have drawn faces or facial features on the masks, including the popular beaver-like teeth.

One girl has drawn luscious lips on her mask, with the words: "No kissing on these lips". Some students are munching away in class under the masks, unknown to the teachers.

Vasuki, who has always struck me as an intelligent girl, remarks: "This will just be for a week or two. After that, the novelty of wearing a mask will wear off."

I'm sure as more students start to wear masks, this scenario will play out in their schools, too.

A male friend says there is a more dangerous virus than the H1N1. It's called B1N1, he says. The 1, I'm sure you can see, looks like an I. If you read it as "bini" (the Malay word for wife), you'll get the joke.

I went to the pharmacy on Friday to buy some face masks. The pharmacist recommended the N95. The moment he mentioned N95, I thought of the Nokia handphone. But no, N95 is a mask — or rather, a respirator. Some experts say this is the most effective respirator.

Why N95, I wondered. Apparently, it is 95 per cent effective. So now I can tell my friend E.S. Tung that I have a N95, too. And it cost me only RM5.

But, I must add, there is still a raging debate over the effectiveness of masks and respirators in preventing the flu.

The United State's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no clear, scientific data that it works, or doesn't work. Therefore, it suggests we wear masks while observing precautions such as washing hands frequently with soap and avoiding being within 1.8 metres of anyone with flu.

I checked out the Health Ministry portal and was disappointed to find the standard front page with the words, "Kami sedia membantu" (We are ready to help), greeting me.

I would have thought that with this flu out of control, the situation warrants a full front-page treatment about the disease, with important contact numbers in bold. No, for that, you have to scan the clutter of words and graphics to spot the "influenza A (H1N1)" and click on it.

I hope the ministry will devote the front page to the disease that has already killed 18 people and infected 1,525, and to the dengue fever that has taken 64 lives so far this year.

My son asked, as we were buying the N95, whether crime was on the rise. I said yes, and he quickly shot back: "With people wearing face masks, we can expect more crime cases."

He's right. The police have to double their efforts as victims will not be able to identify the criminals. Another example of one man's meat is another man's poison.

The sight of more people wearing masks will make the health department happy, but not the police.