Erikka Askeland: Going viral with homespun remedies

IT IS pretty much foremost among those confounding modern dilemmas. Do you, when feeling shaky and feverish, head into the office anyway?

Erikka Askeland

For some the answer, accompanied by an abject sniffle, is yes. Times are hard. If you don’t show up your boss might start to think you are a malingerer (if she hasn’t contemplated those suspicions already). Your colleagues may make sympathetic noises to your face when you return, spluttering and slumping in your office chair, but you know they will harbour bitterness in their hearts if they are forced to pick up the slack left by your absence if you choose to sweat out your virus at home.

So you soldier on, surrounded by blister packs of drugs, rheumy eyes bulging at the screen in front of you while you try to ignore that maddening itch somewhere deep behind them.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

This is despite medical advice that it is better for you – and your colleagues, and the boss – to keep yourself and your nasty germ-infested, sneeze-diffused particulates at home.

I bring it up because, as I write, I am shivering underneath my blankie with a lemsip close to hand. The flat is strewn with crumpled tissues, and I am prone to being overwhelmed by a strong desire to snooze. The sandpaper-like feeling in my throat has moved upwards and taken a new form, not unlike hardening cement, behind my eyes and nasal passages. Only now is it creeping down into my lungs ready to be broken up by hacking cough fits. And that is just the tip of the gory detail iceberg.

I know it’s going around. I can tell, because a few people I know have mentioned having symptoms on Facebook and Twitter. It used to be the case that you might casually discuss your or your significant other’s recent illness, only to have your correspondent shake their head sympathetically and tell you that their uncle had the same thing last week.

But now we are getting even more impressive at tracking the emergence of cold and flu outbreaks. The search engine Google is able to track searches for terms like “flu remedy” or “cold symptoms” particularly across the US. What they have discovered is this provides a real time, super local method of tracking where viral outbreaks are about to occur. Where the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System run by the World Health Organisation relies on data sent on confirmed, laboratory-tested results sent to a worldwide array of National Influenza Centres, now it is possible to track minor outbreaks as soon as there is a tickle in the throat of enough people to start a spike in search terms.

Not that this is much value to the average sufferer. Unless the NHS can use such information to start loading up soup trucks in advance it won’t make much difference to those of us slumped on the couch watching Trisha Goddard. Although it will come in handy for when the much feared “big one” happens – you know, like the vast influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed between 50 and 100 million people and another for which epidemiologists tell us we are long overdue. Remember the swine flu of 2008-9? That was a pandemic, which is what you call it when health boffins shake their heads sympathetically and tell us that no matter where you go in the world, everyone including their uncle has it. In the latest example, though, panic outstripped its actual death rate, which means the next big one could still be on the way.

Luckily this isn’t the season for pandemics. It is probably just a passing fever. So I have been resting, drinking lots of liquids. Time tested remedies. But the one I have always hated is the one dictated by the saying: “Feed a cold, starve a fever”.

For most people this means that in addition to hot, blackberry flavoured analgesic drinks, you should go ahead and indulge in any range of comfort foods you can stuff down your gullet, as long as you don’t suffocate due to the fact you can’t breath through your nose at the same time. Except I recall one babysitter I had who misinterpreted the saying. She thought, because I had a fever, it should be starved and I shouldn’t be allowed to have lunch. So I watched, whimpering meekly on the sofa as her daughter tucked into an after-school snack of macaroni and cheese.

That’s why I stayed home. My colleagues have been saved from catching what I have. I’ve been able to eat macaroni pies to my heart’s content. In fact I almost feel better enough to come back to work.