Just before all this began to unfold my 2yr daughter
became ill with a terrifying lung infection.
A girl down the street here in Jakarta had recently died,
and an acquaintance and her daughter also died
from severe lung illnesses as well in May and June.
Although she had not been to the zoo at Ragunan (nearby),
her older sister has visited the Ragunan zoo previously, last year.
She suffered symptoms of high fever with a severe cough and accelerated heartbeat
associated with extremely difficult breathing began in early September.
Breathing became so difficult that she became delirious and then
went into a sort of semi-conscious state. We rushed her to a Jakarta hospital where
we knew from previous experience with her older sister that
facilities and techniques were prepared for restoring her breathing.
Given some antibiotics and expectorant to treat the case,
we returned home only to have her relapse several times.
As the government declared the H5N1 situation required forced hospitalization
we watched televised news, where, unlike other countries,
local film crews are allowed to stalk patients like paparazzi
in through the admittance process.
The most riveting sight was that of Riska strapped to a gurney with
sheer terror in her eyes as attendants peeled her away from family
and whisked her into intensive care.
The reports you don't read in the English-language versions coming out
discuss the fear and panic these patients are subjected to.
In order to prevent any intra-family exposure the patients are
isolated and stripped of their belongings.
Wailing and shrieking is actively encouraged
as a signal that their lungs are being purged of mucus.
That young girl died,
the image of her panic while being wheeled in to her death
is seared into my mind.
For any young child,
this barbaric treatment is no less than an emotional death sentence.
If they had warded her parents in with her she might have lived.
Besides, what kind of parent fears illness from being with their child
in the face of death in a strange place?
As our daughter relapsed yet again Sept 21, we went to a rather expensive clinic
where proper tests were performed along with minimally harsh medical treatments.
Her malady was confirmed to be a simple bacterial infection brewing inside
her lungs which had developed complications, as opposed to bird flu.
The chances of this being confused with bird flu were quite high
justified by the number of patients sick with other infections warded for bird flu.
Although there do exist many doctors here in Jakarta with exceedingly high standards,
there are many places where panic prevails over common sense
Although some expatriates here disparage local medicine standards,
local doctors regularly perform miracles given their lack of funding.
The result of this situation, however, is an almost inevitable prescription of
various antibiotic cocktails and strange combinations of expectorants
and sleeping potions in prescriptions.
H5N1 is not necessarily the whole reason there are so many deaths here.
Many of the children would survive if they were treated a bit more humanely.
Along with all this is the fact that many people die here each day from
diseases ascribed by hurried medical personnel to ordinary infections.
H5N1 has probably killed and infected a lot more people than
the authorities will ever know about.
Because the rate of infection is still slow no one has realized
this until recently, with reactions typical in this part of the world.
The panic itself is generating conditions for mutation and eventual deaths of patients.
The follies of quarantine
will not work here in Jakarta,
it is already far too late.
There is no quarantine in the period before the disease is perceived.
By the time symptoms appear the host has already exposed family
and friends to the disease.
This part of Asia has a suicidal approach to sharing
uncleaned eating utensils and stray saliva with both family and friends.
A family dinner for most in the city is a noisily wet affair
with food spraying from the mouths of people engaged in heated discussions
with no regard for how unintelligible they are speaking with around a gob of mush.
Shovelling greasy fingers into a communal rice bowl is a badge of communion.
A whole host of mites, lice, and other body parasites quietly labour
to spread their spectrum of life across the clothing and bedding of the city.
Giant rats roam at night streets littered with chickens and cats by day.
Birds are favorite pets here, with aquariums being almost as popular.
The unremitting tropical heat is constantly brewing things
in every forgotten corner of the city where flies
feast in fetid stews of kitchen scraps tossed into industrial wastebins.
Although the term hygiene has been grafted into the language here,
almost no one has the faintest idea what it means or entails.
Already this year we have faced dengue and polio threats here.
One thought that does occur is that the city-wide polio
occured almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the H5N1 threat.
These widespread vaccinations targeting youth raise the question
of whether a potential virus such as H5N1 can take advantage of the
mass vaccinations of children to find ways past the normal resistance
we all have to such diseases.
Coincidence? Probably, but certainly a thought to consider.
For Jakarta it is already too late - H5N1 may not become level 6 here
but as you read this something far more apocalyptic
is probably taking notes at a warm dinner table nearby.
Perhaps H5N1 will probably become a significant problem
but the next serious menace may be something else,
perhaps a fungus mutated to attack skin or
something like a cross-bred version of influenza and tuberculosis.
You must see some of the slime that grows around here to appreciate
just how well things grow in the shade of a tropical region.
Although the Gulf Coast has similar fungus brewing capacity
a different culture with a higher awareness of hygiene
precludes that region from being the source of the next pandemic
And there are bogs and swamps here that have been stewing
for thousands of years which only now are humans digging into
to prepare new cities and developments.
Somewhere someone will eventually dig into a motherlode
of biological hazards and bring some home for dinner
as a prospective mate for whatever illness they keep as a household pet.
But, as it stands now, there is no real pandemic here.
When it does arrive, the news media will not know until after many deaths,
since they pay very little attention to disease here.
The best that can be hoped for now is that researchers will continue
developing drugs to combat this flu, along with developing deeper
knowledge of how to deal with the new threats being generated as you read this.
Death will follow Malthusian instructions here,
but it will not have the same effect where children are treated better
and hygiene is taught early and intently to the youth.
Living healthy and taking care of your body is much more potent medicine
than worrying about all this, as inevitable as it is.