Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The upside of scaremongering

I am in Caen Normandy to attend a festival called Boréalis. Unfortunately I have the flu and am not exactly chipper, having managed to thread a roll of toilet paper onto my arm for nose blowing convenience. But all is not lost. I have Tamiflu.

Does anyone remember the scare some years ago when a bird flu pandemic was going to take down civilisation? I do not know how this played out in other countries but in Iceland we were all certain we would die. It occurred during the bank crash, with the combined foreign currency available to the country amounting to about four and a half Happy Meals. So when news came of a medicine called Tamiflu that could save the day there was much ado about how much we should get. I recall that we were finally able to buy about 200 000 units by some miracle – or possibly by maxing out all government credit cards. And everyone became depressed that we were not able to buy the 310 000 units needed for everyone to get a box. It was probably at that point that the crisis really hit in.

The Tamiflu boxes were sold in pharmacies but soon after they went up for sale the bird flu scare died down. So the Icelandic authorities had over half of their stock unsold and all of the angry voices raised in protest of there not being a box for one and all became quiet.

The unsold Tamiflu stock was a problem and officials entered an undercover media campaign to get people to buy some, the surgeon general being interviewed on the news saying that you could never be sure with these things and that the bird flu could at any time come back, swords blazing. I seem to recall there being talk of it being good to have at home, bird flu or no bird flu, and that no home should be without it. Having been at the pharmacy the day they started selling it I did not need to feel bad, we had a box for everyone in my family. We also stocked up on food. And on cigarettes. Our home had a bunker feel to it. But nothing happened. Thankfully I guess, although we were a bit annoyed at all the fuss for nothing.

Actually, a few months after the bird flu scare, I would never leave the country without a Tamiflu box, having been totally brainwashed that hygiene in the food industry abroad was highly suspect and it was only a matter of time until I would catch bird flu and die an antagonising death on foreign soil. Leaving Iceland was a suicide mission of sorts. I would have been more likely to eat my passport than chicken when traveling.

Years have now passed and my Tamiflu boxes have simply gathered dust in our drug cabinet. Until last year, around this time. My family was going to the USA for Christmas shopping and I got ill. Remembering the Tamiflu I phoned my father who is a doctor and asked him if I should take it to get better. He said absolutely not so I took it anyway. And guess what – I got better. Not a 100% but able to travel and shop.

So this time around I saved myself the phone call and just took it. I was fuelled on by horror stories of this particular flu that is now going around, a co-worker mentioned being deaf for two days and another having his nose begin to disintegrate via peeling. Not exactly good for promotional appearances.

So like last year – I am not feeling great but OK. Thanks to Tamiflu. Thanks to scaremongering. Thanks to the birdflu.

But we only have three boxes left now. Do they still make this stuff?

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. I commiserate, Yrsa, as I have a small cold right now, my first illness (well, physical illness... had to beat Jeff to that) in a year or two. Loved the story of Iceland trying to corner the market in Tamiflu, though! :-)

  2. As much as I'd like to say that's one flu over the a-choo-chou test, I'm afraid that two weeks ago "Time Magazine" reported that a new strain of bird flu had made the jump from fowl to we fair folk. In Taiwan to be precise. And though I have no Tamiflu on hand, I do have my trusty Opal lozenges, courtesy of Iceland's most dedicated shopper.