In my office, much of the talk is of swine flu, as I’m sure is the case everywhere. Fits of coughing are greeted with perfectly timed mutters of: “And there goes the first one…” while statements in scheduling meetings are inevitably laced with qualifications that any time estimates are dependent on us not dying beforehand.
So far though, doom-laded observations that the 1918 Spanish Flu killed a rather impressive 25 million people in its first 25 weeks aside, the biggest battle appears to be over what to name the damn thing.
“Swine flu” has been the early front-runner, but appears to be opposed by two main forces: the pork industry, who quite understandably don’t want the association “pork = death” to be inserted into the minds of consumers; and Israel’s deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, who has declared that “swine flu” (the name not the disease) is un-kosher, and has therefore renamed it “Mexican Flu”.
To be fair to the Israelis, I understand that Mr Litzman is generally regarded there as something of a wingnut, and owes his position in their government to the way that Israel’s highly-pure version of proportional representation gives even the smallest and most extreme of parties a shot at a share of the government pie. (Imagine a UK governing coalition consisting of the Tories, UKIP, the BNP, that bloke who funds boycotts of bus companies and Jerry Springer operas, Robert Kilroy-Silk, David Icke, and someone who once appeared on Rainbow. Not an attractive thought. Mind you, given the lot we’ve currently got…)
Of course, the Mexican government aren’t too keen on having the disease named after them, either – after all, “Come to Mexico, and die!” isn’t exactly a line you’d put on your tourist adverts.
And I don’t believe anyone’s yet asked the pigs what they think.
But amidst the panic and hysteria, I was relieved to find one company standing firm. We live in an age where fear of law-suits has reached such a pitch that it’s sometimes hard to find products whose makers will unambiguously state that the product is safe to use. Sleeping pills with, “Warning, may cause drowsiness” written on them. Children’s medicine that warns the users not to operate heavy machinery. And if you don’t believe me, try buying a baby’s teddy bear that isn’t marked as being suitable for ages three and up only.
But not the guys at Lemsip. Now I’ve long been annoyed at the way they claim it works against both colds and flu. It doesn’t. What it does work against is those colds that people call flu because they feel they can’t justify spending a day at home if all they’re suffering from is a cold. Trying to use Lemsip against a real, honest-to-god flu would be like trying to defend yourself against a chain-saw wielding maniac with nothing but a pack of Lurpack. Tamiflu, it ain’t.
Now given that we’re perhaps about to head into a real, genuine flu pandemic, in which people are going to, like, die, I wondered if maybe they’d be hiding behind the typical legal weasel works and vague warnings. So I headed on over to their website:
“Remedy Adviser” it says at the top.
“Which of the following cold or flu symptoms are you currently suffering from?”
Select “Heavy flu”, and next.
“How severe are your symptoms?”
Select “Very heavy”, and next.
“How would you like to take your lemsip?”
Select “Hot drink”, and next.
“For cold and flu we advise the following: Lemsip Max All-in-One, available in lemon.”
We’re perhaps only days away from a flu pandemic that might kill twenty million people worldwide and if you tell them that you’re suffering from a “very heavy” “heavy flu” (and that pretty much sounds like “flu-flu” to me) there’s not even a suggestion that perhaps you need to be contacting the medical authorities and asking for some potent anti-viral drugs, rather than relying on something you can get over the counter at Boots.
That’s actually pretty impressive. They’re clearly people willing to stand four-square behind their product.
Either that, or they figure dead people don’t sue.