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The common cold
Well, it’s here: the first cold of the season: sore throat, clogged sinuses, misery. It’s nothing really: just a viral infection of the nose and throat. In contrast to the flu, a common cold can be caused by many different types of viruses. The condition is generally harmless and symptoms usually resolve within two weeks. Symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing and congestion. Fever or severe symptoms are reasons to see a doctor, especially in children. Most people recover on their own within two weeks. Over-the-counter products and home remedies can help
control symptoms.
I live a healthy, simple life, and it is always dismaying to be brought down by such a low-grade infection so easily transmitted. A doorknob, a coffee cup, a kiss. Whatever, I’ve spent a week or so feeling sorry for myself and being ministered to by a caring partner. I think I’m on the mend now: at any rate I’ve mustered enough energy to tackle this week’s ’Opinion’.
In the process I’ve been reflecting on what I have had. It’s been a bout of ‘acute viral nasopharyngitis’. It can’t be cured, but must, simply, be endured. There are over 200 virus strains implicated in the common cold. I could collect any one of them at group events like pilates or choir. My production of large mounts of revolting nasal phlegm is evidence that my immune system is actually working, the gunk being the waste outcome of the battle between my immune system and the virus.
I will be contagious for about seven days, and during that period I will stay away from other people, the old and the very young in particular. I’m not going to ‘crack it hardy’. I don’t hold with the ‘heroic’ option of carrying-on, regardless, if that is going to result in a further spread of the infection. I have had my flu injection, and in this case it has worked. I won’t need to go to hospital, although I will ask a GP to listen to my lungs. Pneumonia, or the risk of it, is to be avoided. In the meantime, I will stay hydrated and rest.
Over-the-counter medicines, in my experience, are of marginal value, compared with whisky, lemon and honey. Over the years, I’ve accumulated lots of folk-remedies: they’re worth trying, and there are no side-effects. Spiced tea, flaxseeds, ginger and salt, near-raw garlic cloves, carrot juice, milk and turmeric, salt-water gargle. They can do little harm. Antibiotics? A matter for individual choice, depending on medical advice, but they are currently over-prescribed or routinely administered, but Alexander Fleming, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945 warned against their general use and the consequences of under-dosing or incomplete courses of treatment. They do not work
with viruses.
Penicillin has been prodigiously over-used, especially in intensive agriculture, and bacteria have evolved a growing resistance to it.
E. coli regenerates every 20 minutes. Such rapid evolution favours adaptation. Over two years E.coli has gone through the same number of generations as would take human beings two million years to experience. We are at a serious and growing self-imposed disadvantage in the evolutionary stakes. The persistence of Staphylococcus aureus, ‘golden staph’ in our hospitals, is evidence of this.
The cold is a virus, not a bacterium. Opinion is divided as to whether or not it is a living organism: it has no cells and reproduces by invading a host cell causing it to make copies of the viral DNA. The cell is destroyed thus releasing new viruses. Unlike bacteria, there are no beneficial viruses. Infection of the parent organism, in this case, me, is systemic, not local. Perhaps the most important distinction between bacteria and viruses is that antibiotic drugs usually kill bacteria, but they aren’t effective against viruses. A bacterial illness commonly lasts longer than ten days: most viral illnesses last two to ten days. Fever is much more common with bacterial illnesses.
But there is so far no cure for the common cold so we will continue to have to endure its afflictions two or three times a year. I’ve laid in a store of toilet paper rolls (kinder to the environment than Kleenex), Jewish penicillin (chicken soup) and I have set aside the books I want to read, among them The Microbe Hunters. Microbiology is a fascinating field as technology constantly pushes back the boundaries of what we can ‘see’ with electron microscopes. If I had my time over again...
John Fleming II

Surviving childhood
News of the rescue of the party of 12 boys and their football coach from Tham Luang cave in Thailand was ecstatically welcomed by people around the world. It was if there was a group, but global, sigh of relief. We media consumers, witnesses to the unfolding event, were connected by the universal feelings of fear and hope. To have such an amazingly positive outcome (except for the death of the Thai ex-Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan) was extraordinary. What an astounding effort by the team of rescuers – the government, military and the people of Thailand and the volunteers from around the world who made the rescue possible. Now, we can only hope for the boys that the psychological effects of their extraordinary experience will be managed as carefully and diligently as the rescue operation had been. All kudos to the medical, military, civilian and family support involved in the rescue. The strain on those involved, from the top down, must have been enormous. Watching the Governor of Chiang Rai Province address the local and world media, I felt, as did many others, that there was an effective and professional team in charge. Rescue commander Narongsak Osottanakorn looked determined. There was no grandstanding in his demeanour, just resolve to rescue the boys and coach. He must have felt conflicted, knowing what he did know, from his firsthand experience at the scene, what extraordinary odds he and the team were facing. Like many watching, I felt that he was a trustworthy, competent, capable person, in charge of an awful situation, and he was going to do everything in his power to achieve the best results. What strain he must have been under – we can’t even begin to imagine. Congratulations to all concerned. Each person has been affected in different ways, and each will probably have a different response, throughout their lives. For the boys, survivor guilt may be a response. It was touching to see what one of the boys wrote, as a tribute to the death of the diver trying to rescue them: “...we will be good boys...” The boy’s lives may be affected by their ordeal. Let’s hope that what is to follow – fame, possibly fortune, notoriety, and, most definitely, a lack of privacy – will be handled ethically and sensitively. The sharks are circling, all trying to get in on the act. Good luck boys! I wish good luck also to all of those associated with you. What a coming-of-age story!
Media role
Congratulations also to the media personnel who were present at the cave side – doing their jobs of reporting the story. The relationship between the rescuers and the media was a symbiotic one – each “team” had a part to play, depending on the other. The person in charge – Rescue Commander Narongsak Osottanakorn, must have been very strong (potentially, forceful, if any media person got in the way) to corral, command and lead by example, to achieve what had to be done, and kept the media out of the way of rescue efforts. “The media” doing their jobs must have been getting very impatient. Oh! to have been “a mosquito on the tent wall” during the rescue operation! The tension, sense of urgency and frustration would have been enormous.
Adventurous spirits – normal kids
When news of the boys being lost in the cave was first relayed, it brought back memories, and a sense of relief. Hey, well done to all of us who survived childhood, especially those of us who had a free range or adventurous life. The idea of being trapped in a cave brings me to a near-panic state. As a young kid, my friends and siblings roamed, ran, climbed, swam, jumped, explored and did all the things that kids have to do to learn about life. One of our things was building tunnel/cave/hideouts in the soft sand of the wheat belt town where I lived. We dug tunnels and reinforced the sides with bits of wood and corrugated iron. Cave-ins were inevitable, but didn’t put us off our adventuring for long, even when some of the situations were dangerous. The attraction of caving and building cubbies underground lost its appeal after a cousin of mine (but not near where we lived, and not connected to our games) was buried alive in a sand dune. He did not survive childhood. I think of him often, and wonder. I couldn’t sleep for most of the time that the boys were underground. Childhood is a wondrous thing. Welcome back to your lives, boys. I hope you will all have happy, healthy prosperous futures.
Merlene Abbott

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