Obligatory Swine Flu post

Already, people are starting to come up to me in the street and ask me what they should do about Swine Flu. I’m not sure if this is because I look like a pig or because I had my “Trust me, I’m a Microbiologist” t-shirt on. I’m guessing the latter, since no-one in their right mind is going to approach anyone that looks even vaguely porcine right now.

I’ve been getting the regular quizzing, you know the: “Is this serious?” and the “Am I going to die?” ones. Well, yes it is and yes you are. Sorry to be blunt, but I’ve got to save time for the more interesting questions, like: “Can we blame Jacob Zuma for this?” and “I had a tequila on Friday night – am I infectious?”.
I don’t have the answers for those, but they’re far more entertaining than the rather morose death stuff.

Who knows where this outbreak is going to go from here? Well actually, no-one does yet. Experts may hypothesise, but if one looks carefully, not one of them is going to make a definitive statement on what is going to happen next, for the simple reason that we have reached the edge of our current understanding.

Already, social networking sites – most especially twitter – have been blamed for causing unnecessary panic about swine flu. But who can say that this “panic” is “unnecessary” right now? Well actually, no-one can. Swine flu might go away quietly, but it would be wise to be aware that it’s more likely not to. The bad news is that early reports suggest that it is highly infectious. The good news is that the mortality rates seem relatively low.
The fears over bird flu which began about five years ago were, in my view, entirely justified and it was only a combination of global medical awareness and good luck that the H5N1 virus didn’t infect and kill more individuals.
That this H1N1 strain has the ability to be passed from human to human is extremely concerning to me, not least because I am a human. It’s widely accepted that the lack of human to human transmission was the only thing that stopped bird flu from going pandemic, which is why, even at this early stage of the outbreak, the global infection patterns for the two similar viruses are distinctly dissimilar.

In my mind there are three things for us to be worried about at this early stage:
1. The scale of infection. Even if the mortality rate is low, huge numbers of people being away from their jobs is not good news. Services, food, production etc may well be hit hard. Not good in the midst of a global economic downturn.
2. Tamiflu resistance developing. So far, so good – at least we can treat those with the virus – to a degree. But we only have one weapon and once this new virus overcomes that – well, we have no defence.
3. A nastier strain emerging. It doesn’t take much for a more virulent, more aggressive viral strain to develop – especially in a virus which is so very infectious. This would be my biggest fear and could be where we start to see numbers of deaths climbing very sharply. And annoyingly, there’s nothing we can do to prevent this occurring.

Of course, the ease with which we can access information these day is a double-edged sword. While it can alert us to the threat of swine flu (or anything else), it does open up windows of opportunity for misinformation to be spread… well… virally. And separating that important, helpful information from all the background noise is where the skill comes in. But it’s not that difficult, is it? Simply take into account the source of information and then make an informed decision on whether or not you choose to believe what you read.
So yes, read what @scaredpig (or whoever) is telling you on twitter and then discount it. Read what the WHO say and take note. But hasn’t that always been the case?

But does this potential information overload actually make things any better or worse? If twitter had been around in 1918 when the Spanish Flu killed off 25 million worldwide, wouldn’t people have been tweeting about the latest news of cases and deaths in their areas, speculating and spreading rumours? Would it have done any good? Would it have done any harm?

Meanwhile, mashable.com’s How to track Swine Flu online article, which includes the admirable advice:

Stay Calm, Stay Informed:
While there’s likely to be much concern on social networking sites about public health incidents, it’s important to keep things in proportion, and go direct to the sources of news rather than spreading panic.

has also fallen victim to to those misinformants – this gem from the comments section:

Most important, don’t take any government vaccinations! Strengthen your immune system!

Yes, that’s by far the most important thing to do – if offered a vaccination that may save your life, don’t take it. Because…. because… well… never mind – just don’t!
One can only hope the author takes his own advice on that one. Goodbye.

Meanwhile, I’m off to lie in the sun in Kirstenbosch Gardens. May be a bit busy there with it being a three-day week, but I’m taking my trusty sombrero with me. I don’t expect to be bothered by anyone all afternoon.

For my Exclusive Benefit…

Incoming email:

Dear Mr 6000

Your unique ticket request reference is 6000****7

Further to your application for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ Tickets, your Ticket request has been entered into the Random Selection Draw and processed by the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Ticketing Centre (the “FWCTC”).

 

We are delighted to inform you that the Tickets shown below (and also as reflected within your FIFA.com customer account) have now been reserved by the FWCTC for your exclusive benefit.

That’s right – for my exclusive benefit. Not anyone else’s.

 

I managed to secure tickets for six of the games at the stunningly beautiful Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
Well, thank you very much Uncle Sepp. I can hardly wait – especially for the much-anticipated Match 30 G4 v G2 on the 21st June at 1330. That should be a blast, since I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for G4.

 

Trouble is, I can already see one of two things happening. Either the whole thing is going to be cancelled because of travel restrictions due to swine flu (Sepp Blatter and his cronies being especially vulnerable) or, in a more likely scenario, we’re all going to be completely dead anyway – leaving us more than slightly out of pocket unless we work  for FIFA.

 

How are Mexico doing in their qualifying group, anyway?

 

  

 

Our wine, your wine

Living in South Africa has many advantages: the weather, the nice people, the lack of Gordon Brown, the amazing scenery and – especially for us folk down in the Western Cape – the easy access to some great wine.
I know you can get South African wine in the UK as well, but let me make this abundantly clear: there is the South African wine that gets exported to the UK for sale in Tesco, Asda and Thresher and there is the South African wine that we keep here for ourselves.

Sadly, there seems to be a new trend developing: to try and sell those commercially-named “export” wines over here, presumably on the grounds that if it’s good enough for Tesco, it’s good enough for the South African public. And we’re more used to the easy to understand wine nomenclature of <vineyard> <cultivar>, we’re starting to see ridiculous brand names like Railroad Red and Tall Horse appearing on the supermarket shelves of Constantia Pick n Pay – usually in the household cleaners and solvents aisles.

Step forward Flagstone Longitude. I’m not sure where it came from, but it ended up in our kitchen and it bears all the hallmarks of one of those “wines for over there”: Silly name, absence of any named vineyard, importer in Guildford on the back and that all important management style bullshit for people to read at their London dinner parties and nod pseudo-sagely.

Effortless access to masses of information and penetrating technology characterise our modern life. Yet, the more time-saving devices, the less time we seem to have. The more accurate our satellite navigation, the less we know of our origin… [etc etc etc… continues for another twenty minutes without actually making any reference  whatsoever to wine.] 

Oh do [shut up]*.

Flagstone Longitude is a red blend. For the novices among us, that means that there is more than one variety of grape in there. No problem with that, some of my favourite wines are red blends, especially the “Big Reds”, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. I have to say though, most of my favourites tend to have two or three grapes in there, rather than the… er… eight in here:

wine

That’s: Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Shiraz 31%, Tannat 6%, Malbec 5%, Petit Verdot 2%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Pinotage 1%, Merlot 1%. Wow.
Strangely reminiscent of our recent election results, with the leading cultivar just failing to secure a two-thirds majority thanks to Shiraz’s last-ditch “Stop Cab Sauv” campaign.

Presumably, those dinner party guests in Hampstead will muse over the unbelievable skill of the vintner in adjusting the delicate balance of the blend by adding subtle  “1%” touches of Merlot and Pinotage. Ja right.

Just so you know (because we know) you’re drinking our leftovers. Enjoy!

* careful and sensible self-censorship in case my mother reads this.

Three

My little boy turned three today.

alex3days aww
Three days to three years…

I think that on these sort of occasions (and on many others, actually) a little daddy-blogging is completely acceptable.

Despite the best efforts of the weather to ruin the party, a good time was had by all – a great time by many – and by my reckoning, the house will only to a fortnight to repair.
Which really isn’t bad when you consider what could have happened.

Photos to follow – watch this space are here – and since I’m blogging, a big thank you to Ross Wallace of Preston North End, whose last minute free-kick was enough to see off Birmingham at St. Andrew’s this evening and to keep Sheffield United’s promotion hopes very much alive.

Photo of a man in traditional African dress, riding a unicycle, with a table on his head

Yep. You read right.

His inverted table legs lost amongst the masts and cranes of the Waterfront and Cape Town harbour.

Taken by Mrs 6000 on Wednesday. Even more fishy pics here.