Martin Hannan: Viruses always come as a blow

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Perhaps it’s because I’ve been suffering the most sustained and intransigent cold of my life that I am becoming a bit worried about the state of the nation’s health.

It seems that everyone I know has come down with a virus or three in the past few months. Yes, I know, it’s just the common cold in its many forms – there are more than 200 viruses that can cause a cold – but these current viruses have been nasty and long-lasting.

I have four friends who have all had weeks of torture, frankly, as they have been unable to shake off what starts as a cold but becomes much worse than that.

It appears that several different strains of virus are circulating, so like myself, it is perfectly possible to get rid of one “cold” only to be immediately struck by another. The fact that we have had a very wet winter is also encouraging viruses to stay around a lot longer than normal.

The problem is that since the common cold is caused by a virus, as any GP will tell you, there’s no point in treating a virus with an antibiotic. Only when the infection takes hold and doesn’t look like going away will doctors treat you with antibiotics, since they are so averse to prescribing them.

Even people who are not borderline hypochondriacs like myself are being fobbed off by their GPs with the line that “it is only a virus and will get better in a few days”.

Except that it doesn’t – recovering fully is taking many weeks for my pals and me, and at least I did get help from my GP in the form of antibiotics and steroids. I’m on my second course of them, and this time they seem to be working.

Can anything be done about these viruses? I suspect not, but there are people out there trying to find a cure for the common cold, though other diseases like influenza rightly take priority.

Fortunately, there does not seem to have been a huge outbreak of flu this winter, though the official NHS statistics show that more than 20 people have died in Scotland after contracting flu this winter. We all rightly fear catching flu, but right now I guess that many, many more working days are being lost to the common cold and the secondary infections it can engender, and that’s why I would like to see much more research into the common cold.

For it is truly debilitating when the particular strain of virus is long-lasting, and in any case, how do you put a value on the sheer human misery such colds cause?

The fact is that mankind is a herd species, and we all live and work in places where the common cold is spread easily – little children are the biggest carriers, and that’s why they should all be educated from a young age with that old dictum “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” and taught how to use hankies.

The only way to avoid catching a cold is neatly stated in three words on the website of the Common Cold Centre, the main British headquarters for research in to the disease that is based at Cardiff University.

“Become a hermit,” they state. I think I might have to try it.

Hamish has it covered

The adventures of Hamish, part two. You may recall I told you about our Jack Russell terrier’s voracious appetite. He has now added CD covers to his diet. But we still love him.

Dave beat me to first novel

When my old rugby-playing chum David Burke announced that he had beaten me to it and had his first novel published I was intrigued enough to read it.

It’s called The Man from Outremer and tells the tale of Derwent, a Templar who comes home to Scotland from the Crusades in Outremer (the name applied to the states set up around the Holy Land by the Crusaders) just in time to help combat the English invasion that culminated in the Battle of Roslin in 1303.

It’s a rollicking good read full of detail that only someone familiar with darkest Lothians history could know. A very good first effort by Dave, it’s available from local firm Comely Bank Publishing.

Back to drawing board . . please!

The tide is really turning against the proposed Caltongate development, with so many leading cultural figures coming out against it.

Having trashed the area with its own appalling headquarters, Edinburgh City Council must send the developers back to the drawing board to come up with a much more suitable plan, or else we will see another disaster in the Old Town.