Doctor Who Worked Two Pandemics Says Biggest Frustration Is Conspiracy Theories
Most doctors wouldn’t want to battle one pandemic in their career, but one doctor has spoken about his experiences fighting two pandemics in fewer than 15 years.
With his career as a doctor starting in 2009, in the years since Dr Samar Mahmood has faced both swine flu (H1N1/09) and COVID-19; in the case of swine flu, he battled it both on the frontlines and personally.
H1N1/09, which was first identified in Mexico in April 2009, was dubbed swine flu after showing similarities to a flu virus that commonly affects pigs.
Dr Mahmood spoke to UNILAD about what it was like:
During the swine flu pandemic of 2009, I was a recent medical school graduate who was focused on simply trying get through my first year (usually the toughest year) as a doctor. I was aware of swine flu, but by chance it didn’t happen to affect me or the patients I was caring for in any direct way.
It was only in October the same year that I had my first real experience with swine flu. I was working on a haematology ward, looking after patients on chemotherapy for blood cancers. They were some of the sickest patients in the hospital, and the most vulnerable.
One evening, I was called to see two patients on my ward, both in adjacent beds, because they had spiked a fever. Both felt generally unwell, but after examining them I couldn’t find any obvious source of the problem. I wondered whether they had picked up a viral infection, so I arranged for routine tests as well as a throat swab to check for swine flu. Later that night when I spiked a fever of my own, I realised there could be a connection.
Over the next three days, Dr Mahmood began to suffer with symptoms of a bad flu: high temperature; muscle aches; lethargy; and a headache. While taking paracetamol and resting up, Dr Mahmood was advised to not go back into work for the rest of the week as the two patients he’d found with a fever had tested positive for swine flu. He later found he had also contracted it at just 26 years old.
Dr Mahmood said:
Fortunately, both patients made a complete recovery (as did I) and, other than having to wear disposable masks, gloves and aprons when seeing high-risk patients on our ward duties, swine flu itself had no significant impact on daily life. Ten months later and nobody was talking about it anymore – a storm in a teacup.
Swine flu largely affected the younger generation, with many over 65-year-olds having some kind of immunity to the virus. Meanwhile, the current ongoing health crisis doesn’t discriminate in regards to age.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Mahmood said it has definitely affected his day-to-day life much more so than 2009’s pandemic did.
From the way that patients book appointments at our surgery, to the way we consult with them, to the way we communicate with each other as colleagues, to our workplace attire.
On the personal front, it has been an even bigger adjustment: online grocery shopping, meticulous cleaning of the house and any objects that enter the house, video calling with family and friends, learning new terminology (surely I’m not the only one who thought ‘furlough’ was a unit of measurement used in horse racing?), and above all, lockdown.
Dr Mahmood added that one of the most difficult things that he, alongside other medical professionals, has had to do is debunk rumours about where and how the virus started.
Dr Mahmood said:
The biggest frustration is having to debunk the nonsensical and often nasty conspiracy theories about the virus being a hoax, or doctors colluding with the government to over-report the death rates, or how the virus has spread (cue references to China, Muslims, 5G masts). It’s going to take a collective effort to beat this pandemic, but I firmly believe we will – as long as we stand united rather than allow the seeds of hate and division to flourish.
Conspiracy theories can be harmful because they detract attention from the real issues, and can lead people to disregard vital safety advice (e.g. social distancing measures). Furthermore, they cause divisions in society – as we have seen in terms of racist rhetoric towards Chinese people and Muslims during this pandemic – when now, more than ever, we need to come together universally.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a ‘myth-busting‘ section on its website to help the public to sort fact from fiction.
For example, following President Trump’s statement on disinfectants, the WHO has confirmed drinking methanol, ethanol or bleach does not prevent or cure COVID-19, and that spraying and introducing bleach or another disinfectant into your body will not protect you against it either. It added that doing either of these things can be extremely dangerous and harmful.
The WHO has also shut down any rumours about 5G causing coronavirus, stating the disease has affected people in places without 5G.
UNILAD and LADbible’s Cutting Through campaign is also designed to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment, or who have first-hand experience of the situation we’re facing.
In terms of taking care of yourself during the pandemic, Dr Mahmood said:
It seems that everybody has an opinion on things to do or not do in order to keep yourself healthy and avoid getting the virus. Nobody knows the real answers because this is, as the name suggests, a novel coronavirus.
However, there are some general tips that we can all follow to improve our immunity and reduce the risk of catching any infection: eat a balanced diet which is in particular rich in fruit, veg and nuts (vitamins A, C and E), get enough sleep, practice good hand hygiene, destress, avoid smoking and avoid alcohol in large quantities.
As well Dr Mahmood’s advice, people should follow advice given by both the UK Government and the WHO.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.