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Peter Christian Hall

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Is that Cough Swine Flu? Don't Ask the CDC

Posted: 09/30/09 04:12 PM ET

Reading about the microbial adventures of Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper in Afghanistan has made me wonder about something rather personal. I'd just had an extremely sore throat with no fever that kept me up all night, day after day. I visited the CDC page for "Interim Guidance on Case Definitions to be Used For Investigations of Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Cases" and found it blank.

The celebrity journalists both fell ill in Afghanistan--CNN's chief medical correspondent came down with a classic array of fever, sinus congestion, nausea, and body aches while the 360 host got a very nasty sore throat. Gupta was treated for swine flu. Cooper wasn't.

Cooper's circumstances raise an important social question, at least for me and for thousands of other Americans: Do we have swine flu?

Incidentally I've done a lot of research on influenza for an online blog enovel I wrote about an H5N1 pandemic that hits New York City. I know the symptoms pretty well: fever, chills, ache, fatigue, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract problems.

Using a neti pot helped, but I couldn't flush my sinuses while sleeping--or working in a busy office. I embraced antibiotics on the theory that I'd developed a secondary bacterial infection.

Then Gupta and Cooper shed light on my plight. Gupta had been sufficiently alarmed by "profound chills and shakes" that he got tested for swine flu and was given IV sustenance by the U.S. military.

Cooper caught what he described to Gupta on 360 as "the worst cough I'd ever had."

In the field, Gupta told Cooper he "probably" didn't have swine flu because he lacked the "very high fever" that typically heralds it. (Cooper was never tested.) On the air weeks later, Gupta told Cooper that he thought there was "a good chance" the host caught swine flu. What about that missing fever?

An important question. Since the novel H1N1 virus known as swine flu broke out of Mexico and into the media late in April, a lot of people have suffered respiratory symptoms without fever. Strep throat has been a common complaint. But few such cases have been dubbed swine flu. Does this leave countless flu victims spewing virions all over the subway, bus, train, home, or office--oblivious to the fact that they may be spreading the dreaded flu?

If so, someone should inform the school administrators who count only cases in which students present fever symptoms when deciding whether or not to close a given school.

Cooper further highlights the problem of presenteeism, a social condition whereby germs are circulated by sick workaholics and employees who can't afford to take a day off because they lack insurance or paid leave. Workers who don't know their cough is contagious can disable a workplace. "I also didn't take any days off," confesses Cooper.

I didn't miss a day either.

On learning from Gupta that he may well have contracted swine flu, Cooper turned rueful. "I love that I just learned that I may have had swine flu--from you, via satellite," he said. Cooper took two rounds of antibiotics for two weeks and still has ear trouble. Gupta assured him the antibiotics "probably" didn't help.

In my case, they seemed to help a lot, so long as the 10-day cycle lasted. Now my throat hurts and I've resumed coughing. The hacks of my co-workers drown mine out. They are sicker than I am.

Off to work!

So what does the CDC say? I called the agency to find out what it says about this coughing business--and why its swine flu symptoms guidelines page is down.

Ahem. Did Cooper and I have the flu, I ask?

"We have heard of cases that did not involve fever, but that is certainly not the norm," A CDC spokesperson replied. He promised to look into why the symptoms guidelines are missing.

Back to you, CNN Survivors.

 

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