“Stronger than all the combined armies of the world is an idea whose time has come”. Profound as it may seem, these words of wisdom is timeless and is not tuned to a fact of ideas being big or small, menial or profound. Its sprouting is just when the time is right.
In the case of this flu epidemic that is raging through Maldives and our neighbors, it's such a moment to advocate for “prevention is better than cure”. Surely we have to deal with the part of the cure but it's a time to reflect and renew our commitment to prevention. For us to be aware that being healthy is everybody’s business. And everyone can participate and be effective. Not just to leave it to the physician or the health worker.
Our health system proved it unequivocally in the past and there is no reason why our health system can't make it happen again -- now in this present circumstances to institute a responsible system of prevention and awareness that will be sustainable even after this horrible event is a memory.
It requires us to be serious and make the commitment to attack the causes of ill health. In this given situation, it is the dirty and unhygienic personal habits. We need to know how this H1N1 germ (the virus or bacteria relating to other diseases also) gets into our bodies. How it is transmitted (yes, believe me, it's not rocket science), and then how to prevent getting sick.
The germ gets into us through microscopic droplets of body fluid that come out of the infected person when he/she coughs or sneezes. Someone else 5 or 6 feet directly from this sick or infected person may easily inhale the droplets that momentarily abound. Once these and the virus riding in it gets into our body we say we are infected. But the disease these cause does not manifest in fevers and similar coughs and body aches etc for about 3 or 4 days. This time-space is called the incubation period of the germ. That amount of time is needed for the germ to multiply and become a veritable force to the defense forces of the body we call ‘antibodies’. Since this new entry enemy has not been witnessed by the body’s present defence forces ever, it takes some time for them to build the skills needed to challenge the alien forces. Often the alien germ is much faster in this proliferation than the body forces be skilled. So we get sick because our forces lose are on the retreat - at least for the next few days. If we don't get the help of a treatment of some sort the alien forces will advance further and create havoc in the body. The temperature would rise, the body aches will begin, and the discomfort of a war going on inside of us become apparent by our disoriented state of being. Some people whose energy reserves are good can withstand till help arrives. Others with “less body immunity” dont have it that easy. Their inner organs a hurt and take longer to recover or even sometimes die to the enemy’s lethal barrage.
Secondary infections - those that the virus causes indirectrly, results in opportunities for ambient bacteria to attack also, and we have secondary infections that we deal with the use of antibiotics. But we don't have to wait for this to happen. If we take remedial action such as taking panadol or such for lowering the fever and pain, do mouth-and-throat gargling regularly and inhale steam three times a day to disloge and expel the phlem that collects along our trachea and affect the air-sacs of our lungs (which can lead to pneumonia), we are perhaps in good flow of preventive action. However, advise of a doctor is wise to have because they may know more tricks on how to reduce our pain and shorten our suffering.
Yet, the main opportunity we must seek to deal with situations of impending disease is to take measures for not allowing the germ to enter the body. Besides the sure-fire way of inhaling the germs from another person’s immediate spewing droplets, there are three ways the germ can get into our body. One is through our eyes as when we rub our eyes with contaminated hands. The other is through the insides of our nostrils as when we poke our infected fingers into it for dislodging bits of dried snot or relieve an itch. And the third is by soiled fingers entering the mouth as when we bite our nails or wipe our mouth with bare palm of our hands and when we eat without washing our hands and so on.
The sure fire way to protect is therefore to frequently and regularly wash our hands especially when we come home or to office or wherever after being out in the daily world; establish sanitary habits to prevent entry of germ through these above mentioned portals of entry to the body from soiled hands; and then to exercise conscious concern about coughing and sneezing in public. Please dont cough and sneeze without covering your mouth and nose - not with your bare hands but with a hanky or tissue. You can also sneeze or cough into your shirt sleeve or the upper arm or even into the inner crook of your elbow.
And this is a wonderful time also for the health authorities to strike when the iron is hot: to advocate and enforce measures on no spitting and no smoking in public. These behaviours have inherent dangers that need a much longer and deeper discussion. Just please believe me and other health professionals when they say it's dangerous. Much more danger than benefit to you. You will not look cool when it is time to close your eyes before your time.
Our concern in this life should not be about our life expectancy (how many years we want to live), but about our health expectancy (how productive and healthy these years will be). Therefore, prevention is always a wiser strategy than cure. All the hospitals in the world cannot make us healthy if we don’t take responsible steps to keep away from behaviours that make us sick.