London has given me many things for which I am hugely grateful; continual education, freedom and independence, friends, a job. All really wonderful things to get out of a place, but the city's latest gift I am less than thrilled to have received - swine flu. Yep, London has made me seriously ill, and not just in an exhausted-from-burning-the-candle-at-both-ends kind of way.
Banned from the office, lest I spread my germs among my colleagues, I have been garrisoned in my house, miserable in my coughing, sweating and shivering. By day two of what I was fervently hoping was merely a cold, I was forced to call my doctor, who again, expressly forbade me to enter his place of work and infect his other patients. Diagnosed over the phone, prescribed Tamiflu, which had to be picked up for me by a disease-free "flu buddy", I could have been going through this process anywhere. Or could I? It is highly likely that I would never have caught this delightful flu de jour had I lived almost anywhere else in the UK; except Birmingham and Greater Glasgow, which are apparently also centres of flu concentration.
So it is a large concentration of people which, unsurprisingly, causes the rapid spread, and risk to the average citizen. Why then are Mancunians not dropping like flies? Or the citizens of Liverpool, Bristol or Newcastle? Are they simply more hygenic, or do they have better immune systems? (I find this hard to believe having spent one of the grubbiest weeks of my life doing urban geography fieldwork in Liverpool, and having eaten in several of Newcastle's less salubrious food-purveyors.)
Maybe the secret is in their public transport systems? London's tube, bus and overground rail networks are notoriously overstretched, and under-ventilated. The average tube carriage is the perfect breeding-ground for germs, and offers optimal conditions for transmission as well; warm, airless, and when filled to capacity, offering tiny leaps for a virus from one hot body to another. I was coughed and spluttered all over by one deeply inconsiderate soul on the bus; for half an hour he hacked over his riding companions, never once covering his mouth with anything - he thus remains chief suspect in the infection investigation. People are still remarkably thoughtless about preventing the spread of this disease; the city has yet to unite under this particular threat. Oh terrorism, sure - we'd report our nearest and dearest for leaving unattended baggage lying around. Tube strikes, we are as one in complaint the very millisecond we are inconvenienced. Yet a disease, which the inflammatory media are already screaming may cause up to 65,000 deaths, leaves us horrifyingly blasé. The 65,000 deaths are of course deeply irresponsible melodrama but this disease should be treated with a little more respect, and the risks which it presents duly noted.
Having been infected for nearly a week however I can report that it may be swiftly recovered from. Only about 24 hours of that week were unbearably unpleasant, the rest merely inconvenient. If in doubt take Tamiflu, stay in bed (I know it's boring!) and catch up on your film-watching. As I did, indulge in a little rant about selfish newlyweds who inconsiderately honeymoon in Mexico before blithely bringing home an unwanted wedding present for the entire nation. Now I've had it, however, I will be free to sit back and watch as it mutates throughout the year, smug in the knowledge I was hard enough to kick swine flu in a couple of days.
Although I don't think I will go so far as to get the t-shirts which are already out there for sale. Ah, the world we live in today. Forget producing a vaccine which will immunize us against the disease, we'll just give everyone "My parents went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy swine flu" t-shirts. These are worrying times. In the context of a disease, as any problem, lies its solution, and until we realise that this is a serious medical risk, not a business opportunity, we're in for a seriously long, unhealthy winter.