A garden of viruses


Virus protection graphic from Pixabay.com

Dear reader, please wear a mask and don rubber gloves before reading this none-too-subtle discourse about viruses and how little medical science knows about the common garden variety.

Since I tested negative to Coronavirus, after sitting in the car for two hours on December 28, alas, I still feel like shit. Excuse the language but there is no more apt description. Those lacking in empathy might dismiss it with “Oh it’s just a cold – build a bridge and get over it.”

Not that simple, sorry. There are more than 200 different cold viruses, and despite medical science’s skills in almost every other department, we don’t have a cure for any of them. The common cold virus lasts six to 10 days and the best advice is to stay in bed, or at least stay home until you feel better. There are many remedies which arguably speed the healing process and they include plenty of sleep, plenty of fluids, exercise (which seems counter-intuitive), and other more desperate measures like eating a raw onion and listening to jazz for 30 minutes.

I felt great on Christmas Eve, cooked pizzas for the family, tried to find something intelligent to watch on TV and failed. Went to bed early.

Christmas Day I woke with that post nasal drip thing – you know the one? Within hours my nose was running and I was going ‘ah-choo f***’, spreading germs around the house. I participated in Christmas lunch, feeling gradually worse as time went by. Boxing Day was bad.

“Perhaps you’d better go and get tested,” advised my sister-in-law, the nurse.

I did so on my return home, knowing I’d have a shorter wait than people were experiencing in Brisbane, where we spent Christmas.

While this was going on, reports were dribbling in that our Christmas lunch guest were succumbing to ‘#ahchoof***’. I got a negative test result within 24 hours so that was a relief. Or was it really?

I still felt like shit and Christmas lunch guests, including SWAGACF, were feeling equally miserable.

Cousin Alice rang to say she’s sorry she missed Christmas lunch (in isolation awaiting a Covid test), which proved to be negative. My brother-in-law started referring to me as ‘the East Coast distributor’.

As many people found out, there was something ‘going round’ at Christmas.

I chatted online to a friend who was dreading catching whatever was going through his tribe of grandchildren. Later he texted:

“I’ve got the wog – about to get a RAT test. Result in a bit. Timer on. And…Negative.”
“You were on the spot by proxy at this historic event.”

I spent much of the past week in and out of bed, binge-watching Succession and marvelling at the acumen of Shakespearean actor Brian Cox as the amoral, ruthless media baron. I also spent time wondering how I got this thing. Didn’t I wear a mask when going anywhere? Didn’t I wash my hands assiduously?

The best advice to avoid the common cold is just that – wash your hands after any contact with anyone or anything. Avoid contact with people who have the common cold. Ah, the tricky one. How do we know they have the common cold? They could be asymptomatic, as I was on Christmas Eve.

Through almost two years of dealing with a potentially deadly pandemic, it’s fair to say that the media, and medical science to a lesser degree, has been less focused on other viruses.

Having said that, researchers did note the sharp drop-off in influenza numbers in 2021. This phenomenon may well have been due to the general population taking Covid precautions.

In the August edition of  the Australian general practitioners magazine, ‘newsGP’, it was noted that a year had passed with not one single death due to influenza.

Professor Ian Barr was frank when asked if he ever imagined the current situation; just 435 notified cases (to August 2021) and no hospital admissions.
Barr, who is Deputy Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Doherty Institute, said: “No. It’s amazing. Never.”

Professor Barr says the absence of influenza is a positive, although he also points to a number of other respiratory illnesses beyond the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

“I think fighting one virus at a time is quite enough for the general public. I don’t think we should get too complacent. There are other viruses circulating and depending on which State you’re in, those viruses are circulating at different levels.”

For context, in Australia there were 21,005 notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza by August 2020 and 35 deaths. In 2019 there had been 214,377 and 486 deaths. (One explanation I read for this situation is that many deaths from influenza happen in Aged Care homes – the increasing emphasis on hygiene resulting from the Covid epidemic has had the effect of reducing the number of influenza deaths.Ed)

On January 6, 2022, Australia had 330,289 active Covid cases including  32,312 in Queensland. Before Christmas we had bugger-all.

I’m spending a lot of sick-bed time consulting Dr Google. If you want to minimise the chances of getting Covid, head to Tasmania. The Apple Isle and the Northern Territory have the lowest cases numbers in Australia, although at this time of year the climate is more attractive in Tassie than in the NT.

There were only 785 cases in Tasmania on Monday, increasing to 3,653 yesterday but well below the 268,787 cases in NSW and Victoria, the States you drive through to get to Tassie.

As an island State, though, one can fly directly to Tasmania, with only one border check. In WA, closed borders explains its low tally of 74 cases. The prosecution rests.

It fell to me then, viruses aside, to go on an emergency shopping expedition. I rationalised it thus: past the contagious stage, wearing a mask, washing my hands. What could go wrong?

On my last quick trip to buy juice, tissues and toilet paper, I witnessed an exchange between two customers (who apparently knew each other well enough to drop their masks under their chins).

It’s all a bit much, eh?”

“Yeh, this flu’ll get us all eventually.”

One old bloke tendered a limp-looking ten dollar note. The (masked) checkout person picked it up in the manner of someone removing a gecko from a windowpane.

Then I went home and Dr Googled some more, finding along the way a study done in Germany which says listening to music can help heal the common cold.

Dance music, soft rock and jazz were genres most favoured to increase the levels of antibodies in the bodies of those listening to such music. (The jazz will drive me out of the room, thus achieving the aim of isolation. Ed.)

Research by the Max Planck Institute in Germany concluded that certain types of music boost the immune system and help to decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Enthused by this research from 2008, latched on to by radio DJs and pop culture writers, I put together an appropriate playlist.

Our music advisor Franky’s Dad listened to the playlist and replied:

This playlist gives an insight into the way a virus can addle the brain.”

“I see that you’ve been guided by the theme of illness & medicine,

“It’s a bewildering mix of genres though!”

FD (who also has the wog) contributed If I Could Talk I’d Tell You. Anyway, we agree – avoid listening to your favourites when unwell.

This eclectic playlist of 25 tracks – not all about feeling poorly – includes a pithy little ditty from our album, The Last Waterhole. I recommend Don’t Crash the Ambulance, not for the image it conjures, but as a piece of political history, with George W Snr advising the next president: “Watch and learn, Junior. Watch and learn.”

Germ Boy’s Mix




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