Monday, September 20, 2010

Myths about the Common Cold

Basil Waine Kong

My fellow Jamaicans have a great fear of catching cold and the rain (fresh rain or acid rain from South Africa) and the weather are often viewed as the culprits. Important indoor events are cancelled because of rain and whenever I anticipate standing in a long line, I go when it rains as there will be no wait. A subtle reason may also be our fascination about love and romance when it rains. On the other hand, it would make no sense to Jamaicans why Freddie Astaire and Ginger Rogers would be singing and dancing in the rain. They must be nam fools.

I was walking around barefoot ina mi yard in Jamaica during a recent rainfall and a total stranger passing by advised me that if I didn’t put on some shoes, I would catch cold in my foot. I am told that over-exposure to the rain can also precipitate a cold in the knees and back. I am puzzled when my very sophisticated friends rush into the locker room to put on dry clothes after getting wet on a golf course. This started me thinking about the times I was encouraged to wear a hat so wouldn’t get a head cold; to never get out of bed and immediately expose myself to water (shower); never go outside immediately after taking a bath; stay warm with a jacket or sweater to avoid being chilled; and the many other myths about the common cold that is part of our belief system. In fact, myths about the common cold exist in all societies.

My grandmother thought the common cold was caused by “night air” and would call in the pickney dem as soon as it got dark. It turns out that she and others had noticed that during a malaria (ghengi fever) epidemic, those who stayed out late at night, became sick and even died and so developed a healthy fear of the dark. The culprit were mosquitoes that bit malaria infected people and spread the parasite by biting new victims when the mosquitoes swarmed and bit everyone in sight. A very important lesson is that a correlation does not a cause and effect make. That which is said to cause something, should exist when the cause is present and should be absent when the cause is absent.

The common cold, also known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection, is a contagious disease that can be caused by hundreds of different types of viruses. Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly evolve, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem. In fact, children can have up to 12 colds per year while adults typically have two. The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world, A single tourist who is infected with a cold virus, could infect the entire plane full of people who could in turn spread it to the entire population of Jamaica within 24 hours by sneezing on each other. As soon as the cold virus get into our nose, it will rapidly reproduce and will not be relieved by frequent blowing of the nose or sneezing.

Cold viruses infect the victim’s upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, eyes and throat). Symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, congestion, coughing and sneezing. You could have the virus and have no symptoms and you could have one or more of these symptoms but do not have the virus. These symptoms could be an allergy such as when you sneeze from cold feet or have runny eyes from tree pollen, dust or smoke.

You can prevent getting a cold by disinfecting surfaces that are likely to be touched by an infected person like phones, doors and doorknobs. So wash your hands after touching potentially infected surfaces as well as after shaking hands with an infected person who recently put their hands to their nose. Although difficult to remember, keeping your hand away from your eyes and nose will work as well. This is one of the reasons people in India do not shake hands but will greet you with “Namaste” accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. Officially, this may be a greeting of well wishes for your good health but it could also mean: “You keep your germs and I will keep mine”.

While the common cold accounts for frequent visits to doctors, If you are infected with the cold virus and consult a doctor, it will last a week; if you don’t, it will last 7 days. You can make yourself more comfortable by drinking plenty of fluids and keeping up your nutrition to strengthen your immune system. Antibiotics work against bacteria, while most colds are viral. So, taking antibiotics, sucking on cough drops and drinking bottles of cough syrup may relieve symptoms but will not cure the common cold. Chicken soup or any soup, tea, coffee or hot drink will help as the steam will help open the sinus passages and the warm liquid going down will sooth your dry, ticklish throat. Contrary to popular beliefs, drinking milk and eating milk products will not increase the production of mucus or in any way make your symptoms worse. Exercise helps. So, resist the temptation to go to bed but do not shake hands or otherwise spread the virus to other people as you move about. While drinking alcohol will help you sleep better, it will neither drive away or clear away the virus but may have the opposite effect because alcohol lowers your immunity. In addition, according to Gabriella Kadar: "Alcohol is dehydrating, consequently it disturbs the body's ability to produce the low viscosity mucous required to move pathogenic and other particles out of the respiratory tract."

What is indisputably true is that water in any form, whether it is hot or cold, cannot make us sick except from downing. You can shower ten times per day, stand out in the rain all day in wet clothes, swim in the ocean or a river, go from a hot steamy room into a cold, air conditioned room, jump from a hot tub to an ice bath and you will not become sick with a cold. Air conditioning does not infect you but will dry out your sinuses which is a cause of frequent sneezing. Though the common cold usually coincide with cold weather, it is not a direct cause. Rather, it is during inclement-weather when people spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other, making it easier to spread the virus. Interestingly enough, cold germs will not spread by mouth (kissing) or by eating foods that have been sneezed or coughed on as the cold virus does not infect the digestive tract.

So, the way to avoid the common cold is to exercise, eat a healthy diet and build a strong immune system as well as wash your hands frequently with a proper disinfectant soap. Rather than spread myths along with our cold germs, let’s join together to spread scientific truths. A professor at The George Washington University Hospital made an offer to students that if they were able to “catch a cold” without a virus, he would pay each of them US$1,000. No one has yet to collect and these students tested every myth that was ever conceived by man. Are your courageous enough to put your myths to the test?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Baksheesh for Jamaica

Basil Waine Kong

On my first visit to Egypt twenty years ago, I encountered a practice that I have put into effect while I am in Jamaica and would recommend to all who can afford it. Each day, my Egyptian host would make sure he had a bag of coins and would give something to everyone who asked. Since there is more poverty in Egypt than in Jamaica and no welfare system, crime is low because they had institutionalized the practice known as Baksheesh. This is not begging. These are little tips that are graciously accepted by the less fortunate for little or no services rendered. Often, my Egyptian host would even thank the receiver of the baksheesh for giving him the opportunity to earn a blessing. At least a person in dyer straights could get by with the cooperation of several people. Rather than arrest or even resist the solicitations from those less fortunate, can those of us who are blessed daily share a little of our good fortune with our brothers and sisters? Here is a case where a little from all who can afford it will go a long way to reduce the desperation of those who need it.

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Buddha

The Songs of My People

I remember the songs
B. Waine Kong

As a Freemason, I can always count on a big smile on my face and my mood picking up when we gather to toast our benefactors and to sing. There is nothing like a room full of men singing the old songs. These experiences cause me to reminisce about my early years in St. Elizabeth where songs are important elements of our culture. We used every occasion to express ourselves in song.

My Granny (Rosella McKenzie, who raised me) prayed aloud when she greeted the day each morning, prayed again before each meal as well as before bedtime. She sang hymns all day long while doing her chores and never missed attending church where she was more delighted with the music from the old pipe organ pumped by Mr. Mears and played by Teacher Chang, than the sermons, responsive readings and even prayer time. There was a gentleman at Springfield Moravian Church whose voice made everyone wince. He sounded like a bullfrog. No amount of gentle urging could get him to understand that the Bible said: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” not a dreadful noise. As he refused to be silent during the singing of hymns, we just laughed, grinned and bared it.

The men sang when they worked. Women sang and make wonderful rhythms with their coconut brushes as they put a honey wax shine on the wooden floors as well delighted me with squeaky noises when they washed cloths. There was always a song in our hearts and a rhythm to all activities of daily living. We sang non-stop for nine nights when someone died. In the old days, the men got together to plow the fields, children brought the water, the women cooked the food and served the rum and a song leader kept the men singing and working all day long and no one got tired. There was nothing like a song and camaraderie to motivate men to work without being paid. Neighbors just did it for each other. The joke was to box someone in a corner by a group of men swinging hoes because the rule was you couldn’t stop even to save a man’s life as long as the song continued. You could not break the rhythm. When they took a break for food, it was hard corn meal dumplings the size of cart wheels,yam, coco, dashine as well as fried up salt fish and salt pork with onions, scallions and tomatoes and the drink was “waters” (white rum and water) as well as lemonade made with sour orange and wet sugar. Whenever a man drank rum, he was expected to do four things, throw a little to the ground for the ancestors, drink it with one gulp, make a loud grunt and put down the glass as if he just bowed out in dominoes. The rum we served was called “Jan crow Batty”. It was so named because it was stolen from the rum factory by workers who filled their water boots, wear it out and emptied their boots in a pan when they got home to later share with friends. The over proof alcohol cured his athlete’s foot and added flavor to the run.

We started and ended every meeting with a song. At school, we had a song for every occasion. When a new teacher came to school, we greeted them with a welcome song: “Hello, we are so happy to meet you”. Those leaving heard: “Good bye, Farewell”. We had a good morning song, a good evening song: “Now the Day is Over, Night is drawing Neigh” and when we graced our food: “Be present at our table Lord; be here and everywhere adored.”

My favorite song at “Nine Night “was:

Mi sa my old man dead
And he no lef no will
He lef a little piece a land
Fi feed the whole a wi
But wi bigger breda
Tief it way from wi
Glory Be to God
Glory be to God
Fi di whole a wi

Whenever our cricket team went to play another town (New Market, Darlistown, Black River, and Middle Quarters) we tried to big up the team by singing and waving to those we passed from the time we left and especially when we arrived and was in the presence of the opposing team. If we lost, the truck was quiet on our way back but if we prevailed, we sang all the way back: “You were wrong to send and call us, you were wrong.”

Nothing like a song to pick up our spirits.

Teaching Our Children to Swim

Basil Waine Kong

The unbelievable suffering by families who lose children from drowning is upsetting to me for this un-necessary loss of life. I read too frequently, newspaper reports about children (as well as adults) drowning in our ocean, in pools, rivers and ponds. With the abundance of water around and in our island, the risks of not knowing how to swim and the ease of learning how to swim, why are 90% of our citizens not able to swim? I am puzzled.

All my children and grandchildren who are more than two years old can swim. It is really not difficult. Anyone who is not afraid to put his head under water can learn to swim in less than one hour. All we need is a commitment to do it. Just like we need a national commitment to end illiteracy, we need everyone into the pool. The risk of drowning is one thing but when I contemplate the hours of joy I have experienced wading in and under various waters around the world, why would we want to deprive our citizens (particularly our children) this source of joy. Tourists come to Jamaica to swim in our clean beautiful blue ocean and enjoy our white sand beaches and too many of us deny ourselves this pleasure. If we made a commitment to require swimming proficiency in our schools, in addition to saving lives and increasing activity levels, we may also discover some talented individuals who could represent us in the Olympic Games. We are gifted people looking for opportunity.

If our Minister of Education wants to be remembered for his leadership, this is something he should consider.