Monday, January 08, 2007

I am sick too :(

Flu and cold season hits Beirutis full force
Many believe this year's viruses are stronger

By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: 'Tis the season in Lebanon, not for Christmas trees and being jolly, but rather for the flu - and a bad case of it. As Beirut welcomes 2007, many residents of the city have already started the New Year on an unhealthy note. The arrival of the flu season in Lebanon has many swearing that viruses are stronger than in years past. "I spent New Year's at home," said Linda, 29, an employee at a non-governmental organization in Beirut. "My boyfriend was sick too, so we sat on the couch coughing at each other." "People are sick all around me," she said, adding that her colleagues have used sick days for recovery, not an extended holiday vacation, this week. "Basically I was on eight different medicines," said Linda, who has since recovered. Linda admitted that she is a person who gets sick "regularly," but said that this year her illness was worse. "It was much harder to get rid of." Diala Khawandi, 23, came to Lebanon for a vacation and ended up in bed with the flu. "I came from the United States a week ago, but a day afterward I started vomiting and after that, I had a fever of 39 or 40. My muscles hurt." Khawandi's husband is a doctor, but even that hasn't helped. "I'm under the supervision of a doctor 24 hours a day, but nothing is helping," she said, adding that she had tried many kinds of medication. Khawandi does not believe her illness resulted from traveling: "I think it is Lebanon, because everyone around me is sick. What a vacation." Linda and Khawandi are not alone, as local pharmacies are struggling to fill orders. Aida Hajj, a pharmacist at Vital Pharmacy in Beirut, said cough and flu medicines were flying off the shelves.

"People are coming in with colds, coughs, fevers and combinations of all these," said Hajj. "The virus seems stronger this year. It's not going away and people are staying sick for 10 days or more." Hajj said that customers were coming in for an assortment of medications - from antibiotics to drugs designed to diminish certain symptoms. "Maybe it was a problem in the vaccines," Hajj said, dismissing the idea that the war had affected immune systems. "People get vaccinated in October usually. It's too late to get one now." Bassem Saab, who specializes in family medicine at the American University Hospital, said that he has seen many patients with respiratory infections, but did not think it was more serious than other years. "I'm seeing a lot of upper respiratory tract infections. We can't be sure if it's the flu, which is a special virus, or if it's another virus, but this is usual for the season. It's winter," Saab explained. "The transmission starts before you experience symptoms," Saab said, adding that an infected person can spread the virus to objects such as a telephone or door knob, where it can survive for up to four hours. "The main source of transmission is hand shakes, which are common culturally in this part of the world and hard to avoid," Saab said. Useful methods for avoiding the flu include washing hands frequently, taking vitamin C, avoiding shared food and drinks and wearing warm clothing. Saab warned that it is too early in the flu season to classify it as an epidemic. "Every year we tend to think this year is worse than the last," Saab said. "But nothing has been studied or confirmed yet."

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