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The great thing about my iPhone, when it functions, is its uncanny ability to elicit gasps from passersby, usually as the svelte silver casing slips yet again from my sweaty palm to land with a disconcerting clunk on the floor. Not unlike a precocious child dropped repeatedly on its head, this has retarded the phone's ability to satisfy even my outrageously pedestrian needs.

I simply need to make phone calls. I don't use my cell phone to send out tweets every time something ravishing, like a perfectly boiled egg, catches my eye. I do not use this contrivance to work out, through GPS, my latitude and longitude coordinates to three decimal places so my mother can zero in on Google Maps to warn me about a growing bald patch. "No Ma, that's the Sahara. I'm a bit further east, in Hong Kong." A simple street address will suffice for most occasions.

But my dying iPhone can access a mind-boggling array of applications like The Moron Test and Amateur Surgeon. It also offers a remarkable Swine Flu Tracker and the H1N1 Update. These pick up news feeds and tweets from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control, so that in the comfort of your room, surrounded by loved ones, a large furry dog and a riveting episode of Inspector Morse, you can instead proceed to scare the bejeezus out of yourself and everyone else.

Then there are the Google flu alerts. The search giant keeps watch on query clusters about any related subject to gauge interest, panic, and possible outbreaks. But does a caterwaul of flu searches in a particular location mean that city is a) experiencing an outbreak, or b) simply paranoid? Is the complete absence of online search in Mongolia indicative of a) no flu b) no electricity, or c) supreme sangfroid? And can this service track outbreaks of adult site searches so that the oppressed--and rudely distracted masses--can finally head off to check out some really cool stuff and give the inflatable doll a rest? We don't really know.

Among other things, the CDC lists travel notices relating to H1N1 in the USA, yellow fever in Brazil, pertussis (whooping cough) in Australia, cholera in Zimbabwe, meningococcal diseases in India and Africa, chikungunya fever in much of Asia, rabies in Indonesia, H5N1 avian flu, Marburg in Uganda and even "melamine" in China. What do you do if there is an outbreak of melamine? I must confess I've never seriously thought about this. You could don gloves, catch the stuff and toss it into a large dishwasher. Or mix it in your food, as happens in China, to produce a very high protein reading.

The World Health Organization estimates that seasonal influenza kills almost 250,000 to 500,000 people a year, not a trifling number. Malaria claims a million lives each year. Marburg, like Ebola and Lassa, is a haemorrhagic fever caused by a vile filovirus that turns the insides to mush till you simply melt and ooze out of your orifices. The Ebola kill rate can go as high as 90 percent. Compared with this sort of jaw-dropping hit-by-a-truck statistic, swine flu is a toddler on a unicycle. But toddlers learn, and grow, and acquire ever-faster wheels.

Yet, the known antecedents of swine flu stretch back to Thanksgiving 2006 when a Wisconsin teenager slaughtering pigs picked up the H1N1 swine flu combined with an avian strain. Yes, this one has been around and is not so new after all.

Raking up memories of SARS when six million people nearly perished breathing in their own frightful garlic breath for the first time behind green masks, Hong Kong's Metropark hotel in Wanchai was sealed off and placed under strict quarantine for a week in May. Bored guests in masks and full surgical garb ate dull government stodge and wandered about listlessly while bargirls, inadvertently snared in the police dragnet, added a sense of colour and commerce to the otherwise humdrum drama.

It is heartening then to see that on 25 May, Google Zeitgeist (, which whimsically lists the most popular searches as a finger on the pulse of our less-than-literate planet had, in its Top 10 for USA, duvin, girls gone wild video, kung fu hustle, and even North Korea. Paris Hilton is, of course, a regular. Flu didn't figure at all. Thank you America. It is a Great Nation that picks Paris over Pestilence each time. Let's stay focused on the essentials.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Previous Article:HOT OFF THE OVEN.

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