News Brendan O’Connor

Thursday 2 October 2014

Bespoke viruses are spreading like the plague

Mid-life crisis

Published 24/02/2014 | 02:30

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FEVER PITCH: The days of using antibiotics to fight bizarre sicknesses are a thing of the past

It used to be you knew where you were at with a cold. You had a runny nose, maybe a hoarse throat, maybe a cough. You went around with tissues feeling annoyed and annoying for a few days. You took Lemsips. You felt a bit sweaty.

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If it went on too long or if you also had pains all over you would then designate it a flu and you might take to the bed or even go to the doctor, who might give you an antibiotic. As far as you were concerned, he would want to give you an antibiotic considering you had gone to all the trouble and expense of going to him (the GP was always a man back then. Don't shoot me. I didn't make up the rules).

Either the colds and flus have changed or I have. Nowadays, perhaps to do with the increasing fragmentation of markets and the personalisation and democratisation of everyone's life and experience through the internet and social media, there seems to be no such thing as the generic cold or flu. Now there are these bizarre hybrid viruses that are seemingly unique to you and that hang around for up to a month, ebbing and flowing and changing their focus. Some days they kid you that they have gone away, only to hit you hard again at lunchtime. You go from recovery to needing a stretcher within the space of an hour.

I am currently in about day eight of some kind of personalised, bespoke virus. Today's symptoms include deafness in one ear, extreme crankiness and general despair about the world. Yesterday, it was a sick stomach, aches and pains, exhaustion, ringing in both ears and sweating. Last night, for the first time in three nights, I didn't actually wake up in a pool of cold sweat at 4am, which you could see as progress, but then again, that's not to say that it won't happen again tonight. You'd have to be up early to keep up with this one. It respects none of the normal stages of cold and flu. Not only does it vary by the day, it actually varies by the hour. It actually entered a new phase live on TV on Saturday night. I had been feeling tired and achy and whatnot for a few days, but I had been motoring through it, thinking at least I wasn't snotty or coughing. The show must go on and all that. And then, I swear, pretty much bang on as the music started on the show, it suddenly turned into a chest infection and I could barely breathe or speak without needing to cough or clear my throat.

Eventually, I went to the doctor for the sake of it but we both knew there was nothing he could do – that we were merely going through a ritualistic dance that had lost its meaning. In the olden days, I would have demanded, and duly been given, an antibiotic, but of course those days are gone. Everything is a virus now, and thus immune to antibiotics. And whereas they would have given you one anyway in the past, we're all gone precious about taking too many antibiotics these days. Also, because each virus now seems to be a new personalised variation, specifically aimed at the client, they obviously haven't developed treatments for them yet. Modern medicine just can't keep up. He did give me some steroid nasal spray to try and ease the deafness and face pain, but I imagine that has just given me mini 'roid rage on top of everything else.

The most annoying thing is people trying to say, "Oh you're sick. I had that a few weeks ago." And you're thinking. "No. You didn't have this. You had some mild cold thing of the old school. This is totally different. This is the plague next to what you got, but you did probably pass the initial bug on to me you f**ker. Now f**k off." (The last bit could be the nasal spray talking.)

By the way. Just to keep you updated, since I started writing this back pain has come into the equation, too, and I have developed a sudden, hacking cough.

Of course, I know that my loved ones are rolling their eyes behind my back and saying would he not just take a cold remedy. But the fact is I hate pseudoephedrine. If I was ever to dabble in speed I'd take the real thing. My top tip to you? An antihistamine every morning to keep you from getting messy and being one of those miserable bastards who carries a box of tissues. Then again, it could be the antihistamine that is making me so cranky and depressed, or maybe it's the swine flu/ bird flu/ plague hyb-rid. Who knows where the illness ends and the cure begins?

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