23 September 2009

H1N1 in Malaysia

H1N1 has been kind of everywhere and subdued at the same time really.

I mean, you see people with surgical masks but at the same time, the government complained that awareness about H1N1 was still low among the population despite massive campaigns in the radio, on the newspapers and at the workplace.

A poster with nine separate picures gives you instructions on how to properly wash your hands and is strategically placed on the outside of the toilet door so you can read it while you wait. Also, there are additional notices in both English and Malay as well as huge dispensers of desinfectant gel where many people pass by.

It is always possble to bump into people wearing masks, in the street, in the mall, in the plane, at the work place and it is a totally normal sight. Some people have the tendncy to wear mask as a fashion, on every occasion, I mean as an amulet, even though they are not sick; you are only supposed to wear them to prevent infecting others when you have flu-like symptoms; they don't work the other way round! But then other people see you and get a mask too and the next person, and the next peron. Panic for nothing.

I mean all I know about H1N1 is that you avoid close contact, especially in train stations, airports and well, you do want to take that extra steo when the person behind you on the escalator is coughing. You're supposed to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and stay away from the work place or school if you have flu-like symptoms. In that case, open windows at home to air frequently to reduce any microbiotic activity. Minimise your contact with people and make a list of people who visit you (or go shopping for you).

Asia's response was pretty quick and they were said to be better prepared for this than many Western countries because of the Avian flu outbreak a while ago. Whenever you take a plane, you are given yellow forms from the respective health ministries, asking you to tick if you had any of the following symptoms recently (iecoughing, sneezing, rash, diarrhea). If you ticked yes to any, you are asked to report to the health officer at arrival and are reminded that if you give any wrong statements, you incriminate yourself and can be put into jail, penalised with a fine etc. etc. You have to give flight/bus/ferry/vehicle number, seat number, basic biodata and origin and destination of your journey on arrival, you hand it to the health officers (placed before immigration counters, interestingly) while a thermal camera scans the crowds for abnormal temperature.You may find that a lot of airport personnel from the check-in desk to security, cleaning and shop attendants are wearing a mask. If this makes you nervous, you can still walk into a souvenir confectionery shop and find a mask to buy between the durian sweets and the cashew nuts, like I saw in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Malaysia, 77 of the 7066 cases so far reported (24 September 2009) have been reported to have died of H1N1. Then again, I don't have any figures for how many people, in comparison, died of the "normal" flu and wonder if it's just a global hype.

Whenever one kid is identified to have had H1N1, the whole school closes down. You get a massage and the radio plays a H1N1 notice in between every single commercial ad between songs of at least I experienced that once (in a Chinese blind people's massage place, by the way).

One person is sick and quickly rumour spreads that X or Y has H1N1 but in general, nobody really cares or puts it at the back of their mind. It has even found its way into everyday jokes. What I am trying to say is that you won't see people running at the mere mentioning of “H1N1!” nor a lot of drama, luckily.

On the other hand, you have hospitals ovrwhelmed with too many people who think they have the virus but only make doctors more busy. They have to use maybe 20 kits in a day – and that might be the amount they get from the MOH until further notice, or so a local doctor lamented to me.

The other day, on the cover page of the newspaper was a picture of rows and rows of uni graduates in their gowns and tassles, all wearing masks to their graduation ceremony which only ruins their special day without being effective at all.

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