The Dreaded Swine Flu

I’m quite positive that no one wants to read anything else about the swine flu at the moment, but unfortunately, the swine flu is the reason my blog was two days late this week. It has been a hard week for our family, because all four of the kids have been sick, and the au pair as well!

Before it hit our house, I thought all the bluster about swine flu was just that, bluster. I do have to say now that part of it is just that, bluster, but that it can get scary pretty fast. Ever since the news started in about the swine flu, I have been talking to my parents about the differences in news coverage in the US and in Germany. I assumed that the US would blow things up pretty large and sensationalize it as well, but it isn’t too far behind that here in Germany either. In the US it is clear that more people are dying, but the US is a much bigger country and seems to have been hit first. Here I’ve noticed more news about preventing the flu, and especially about whether the vaccine was dangerous or necessary. People in general seem to be more skeptical about vaccines over here, so it doesn’t surprise me that this is the case.

Here if you ask a sampling of doctors whether they think you should get the vaccination, you will get a mixed bag of answers. Our pediatrician has the vaccine, but doesn’t recommend it for anyone except those in the risk group, which includes asthmatics. My oldest has asthma, so we did get an appointment. The general practitioner had a waiting list of 100 people here in Eppelheim, so we gave up on that. She recommended I get the regular flu shot first. A friend’s GP would not give the vaccination to kids at all. Another GP won’t vaccinate anyone. He says two people have died in Heidelberg alone after getting the shot. Big news of this week was that someone in Thuringia died a couple hours after getting the shot. It turns out today that he had a heart attack. So who do you believe? My dad in Detroit says that there they say if you were born in the 70s you most likely are immune. Here only my GP mentioned that. She wasn’t worried. Except after we took the au pair to see her on Friday and she confirmed (without a test) that he had H1N1, she turned out to be sick on Monday when we called in a panic because he was spitting blood. He ended up with pneumonia as a result of the swine flu. My sister-law, who is also a doctor, really wanted us to get the vaccination after they were told at the hospital that the virologists and immunologists are very afraid of the 2nd wave of the flu. She got the vaccine and so did my in-laws. My parents won’t go near it.

It all started for us with Emma, who is 9. She got the flu a couple of weeks ago. I kept her home for 6 days and then she was okay but still coughing. I never bothered with the doctor because they were completely full and said just to keep the fever down with ibuprofen. Exactly 7 days after Emma, Ty the au pair starting feeling ill. The first two days he just stayed in bed. By day three, when he coughed so much that Claire couldn’t sleep at night, I dragged him to the doctor. I got a supply of Tamiflu for the adults, just in case. Four hours later, Livi breaks out in a fever (she is two). Then Claire. I feel bad, but try to ignore it. SO much for our vaccine appointment! Livi and Claire got Tamiflu (for €37, with insurance!!!), but Ty was too late for it.

Of all us, Ty suffered the worst. He is 18, healthy and fit. I was really surprised how hard it hit him. I had to take him back to the doctor on Monday to confirm his pneumonia. Noah and I have upper and lower respiratory infections, but no swine flu. My husband is still healthy. Maybe that information about growing up in the 70s really is true. Another interesting tidbit: as soon as the Bild Zeitung started publishing news of deaths due to swine flu, the doctor’s offices phone lines started ringing off the hook, as they appear to be doing in the US already. I don’t know if is the case in the US, but here there is so much conflicting information (see this article from RP online: http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/Fehlstart-die-Presse-zur-Bekaempfung-der-Schweinegrippe_bid_49778.html) , you don’t know what to think or what to do.

I was supposed to go back to work this week after almost two years of maternity leave, but since I work for a huge software company that also has numerous offices in the US, there is an official policy of not coming in if someone in your family has the flu. I would be interested to hear how that works at other companies in the US. All I know is that I am ready for a houseful of healthy kids (and au pairs). Enough is enough. And by the way, all the doctors we’ve encountered thus far are still calling in the Schweinegrippe.