Best flu drug a dose of common sense

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

Is there any risk that the swine flu could turn people into zombies? At some point might I be called upon to bludgeon my zombie co-workers with a shovel, and should I bring one into the office just in case?

This question did not appear on the 'H1N1 Flu FAQ' that was distributed by our admin department earlier in the week. And that's despite me having submitted it anonymously on the newly created website. Instead, the questions that are apparently most frequently asked are things like 'What should I do if I think I may have the flu?' and 'Can I still eat pork?' The answers, although quite sensible, 'Go to a doctor' and 'Yes', did not themselves rise far above the predictability of the questions.

One question that was notably missing from the FAQ, other than the one about zombies, was 'Is there a serious risk or not?' I didn't submit this question as I didn't expect that I'd get a sensible answer. If the best the CDC and the WHO can come up with is 'It might be' then I don't think our admin department is going to be much more helpful.

But the one thing the admin people can do, apart from copying questions and answers out of the newspaper, is to invent a load of pointless rules and procedures to cope with this risk.

The first thing that the admin department did, like I'm sure every building in Hong Kong has done, is cover all of the buttons and switches with plastic. In the lift, on the security doors, on the telephone in the lobby, and of course on the buttons on the photocopiers.

This I believe is to prevent the buttons from catching the flu. And I'm sure it will succeed as they are very well protected behind their layer of plastic. The rest of us who are on this side are just as likely to pick up the virus from physical contact with the plastic sheet as we are from physical contact with the lift buttons.

The other obvious step that we and plenty of other offices have taken is to check the temperature of any visitor who shows up at the building. This is a great source of amusement for my clients. Having the receptionist reach up and stick a small rubber device in your ear before a discussion about your finances is quite entertaining.

It's not entirely fair to say that this procedure is pointless, there is a slim possibility that the flu could be brought into the building by one of the 50 or so visitors that we get each day. But given that the non-visitors, the people who work here, number in the thousands, we are only screening a fraction of the people breathing into the ventilation system. Statistically, visitors are far more likely to catch the flu from us than we are from them.

Now, if I had a fever I don't think I would bother going to any meetings. I'd be wearing a mask, in a cab, on my way to the nearest hospital. But I suppose it is possible that there is someone out there who is not aware that there is a potential pandemic drifting around. Perhaps even one of my clients who hasn't looked at a newspaper for the past two weeks might ignore a fever and turn up for a meeting with me.

What I have yet to find out is what would actually happen in these circumstances. What is the receptionist actually supposed to do if her digital thermometer flashes red instead of green? Is she instructed to slyly show the client into a conference room and then, once the door is closed, barricade him in there and hit the alarm? Will admin department staff suddenly appear in hazmat suits and drag the poor guy away? Or do we all just run for it and evacuate the building?

I certainly hope the plan is not to call the Department of Health. The last thing I want is to be quarantined for a week in here with my co-workers. Being locked in a Wan Chai hotel for seven days would be tough, but I can't imagine what it would be like to be trapped at work. Have you ever seen what happens to bankers who don't leave the office for just a few days? It happens from time to time when we have a big deal on.

They get bleary-eyed, speak only in grunts and drag their pale bodies around the office with a slow deliberate motion, staring off into space. After a week I'm sure they look like, umm, zombies. Yes, I think I will get that shovel.

Contact Alan Alanson at