Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Not Just Test For H1N1?

Hack. Hack. Hack.

"You ok?" I hear the barking from across the room at a friend's house. Like something prehistoric is trying to climb out of the poor kid's trachea.

"Yeah, doctor says he's got bronchitis or pneumonia, something inflamed." My friend proclaims while stirring the pasta on the stove.

"Geez. Sounds awful."

"He's been home all week with it."

I looked over the poor, listless boy with his eyes glossed over, rolling behind his head.

That was two weeks ago. Since then, I've heard of a number of confirmed cases of H1N1 Virus A/K/A Swine Flu and a slew of long-term absences around town. I'm getting the sense my friend's son did, in fact, have a bronchial something or other but that its underlying cause was something else. But don't mutter the dreaded two words, Swine Flu, because, according to many doctors, "We don't want to cause hysteria."

Today's Hartford Courant reported that CT has now witnessed its third death from Swine Flu. Now people will start putting two and two together. Coughing like a chain smoker with a spiked fever, diagnosed cases of swine flu spreading. But being sick with the flu will not guarantee you a confirmation that it is the H1N1 virus. Doctors just aren't testing these kids (or adults). They claim it's not worth the panic, that they would not treat this flu any differently than any other flu so "why bother?" I suppose I agree with that. The media has a tendency to stir the hype into paranoia. But I'm also a firm believer in transparency and tracking the spread of illness, particularly one that is destined to travel back to the east, mutate and boomerang back to us in the winter with an entirely new strain of challenges. In this case, I say, "Test away."

It is true that the results would not come back for about a week. One mom said, "By then, he'll be back at school so what's the point?"

The point is this.

Call me a public health nazi. It's not that I'm hysterical about my need for tracking these things. I'm rational. It makes sense. Test the people laid up in bed with "bronchitis, some type of flu, a wicked fever" and keep it all on record. We don't do this to raise tensions in the family or even the town. We do this to harness information. We do this because the whiplash from this season's taste of the H1N1 virus might give us indigestion later. At this stage in the flu game, the more information the better, IMHO.

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