Since Christmas this year I don’t think there’s been a single day when one member of our extended family here on the Island hasn’t had one illness or another: it’s not been a good winter for staying healthy.

Other than the annoying cough that has held me in its grip for a month and has Catherine in the thick of dread right now, the illness of the week at our house was a so-called “stomach flu” that, says the word on the street, is making its way through Prince Street School this month. It lasts about 48 hours and involves enough diarrhea to move our household to full “poovalanche” status.

Which got me thinking, again, about the area of health information that exists between the family doctor and “public health” and the kind of widespread mostly-not-too-serious illness that sweeps over a community that, because it’s not killing anyone, doesn’t cause the pandemic alarms to fire, but that is still life-affecting for a lot of families, and likely causes a lot of (perhaps unnecessary) doctor, walk-in clinic and emergency room visits.

What’s most distressing about this kind of illness is that, short of talking to teachers, friends and neighbours, it’s hard to get any information about what’s happening, what the best treatment is, and what practical steps should be taken (keep kids home from school? go to the doctor? wait it out?). For serious illnesses like the flu we’ve got information coming out of our ears, but for short term cold, cough and poovalanche episodes we’ve very little.

Oddly, the single most useful piece of information I received mid-poovalanche at our house came in this tweet from Stephen B. MacInnis: “the bug seems to last 48hr in acute phase. Then a week of Queasy. We are just getting over it.” he wrote, in reply to my original request for information on Twitter. In this case it was simply comforting to know that some other family was going through this too and that an end might be in sight: I wasn’t looking for treatment information or medical advice, just for moral support.

I’m the last person to suggest that “social media” should be applied as a technical solution to any societal problem, but this seems to be a situation where a “crowd-sourced” set of data supplemented by expert advice could be combined to provide a useful data set that would not only help individuals and families, but also assist schools, workplaces, walk-in clinics and others in capacity planning. And it may also allow some home-brew epidemiological work to take place that would help mitigate the impact of these “casual illnesses” in future.

What do you think?


Heather M's picture
Heather M on March 10, 2011 - 19:36

We have a booklet “Communicable Disease — A guide for Teachers and Parents” given to us by Public health (PEI) when my daughter was young. I keep it with our medicine cabinet and have found it to be very useful for this.

It covers Communicable Disease (17), Food Related Illness (3) and Skin conditions (11). Under each one it tells you the following: Incubation Period, How to Recognize, How it Spreads, When it is catching, What to do at home, and What to do at School.

Highly recommend it for all parents!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 10, 2011 - 20:11

That’s great to know, Heather. I&#160found a similar handbook, more focused on educators, for New Brunswick District 2.

Clark's picture
Clark on March 12, 2011 - 02:41

We get our information in a variety of ways: Like you, we rely on friends and contacts but mostly those whose children are within the schools our children go to; the government has very strict and published rules for all kinds of communicable diseases (for instance if more than 2 children are afflicted with a certain illness the classroom closes); doctors visits here are far more fluid, convenient and frequent (at our old house in the city there were literally 6 paediatricians within a 5minute walk) , we don’t hesitate to visit the doctor if one of our children falls ill and they usually have the scoop on what illness is making the rounds at that particular time; as a last resort I will often check an old bbs that parents frequent to see how others are coping.

I find twitter a great resource for more widespread serious events but rather useless for localized non-life threatening illness.

Trayce's picture
Trayce on March 14, 2011 - 09:01

First, let me say that “poovalanche” may be my new most favorite word.

Second, I agree with all you’ve said here about the power of communal information sharing.

Third, I’m so happy to have found your blog quite by accident. Thank you so much for the laugh! I hope you’re all feeling better quickly.

Cinnamon tea may not help a stomach virus at this point, but it is a great way to prevent illness in the first place. Boosts immune, reduces swelling, and tastes like Christmas. :) One stick of ceylon cinnamon in a steaming cup of water — drink throughout the day. The stick can be used over and over until it loses flavour. Good luck!

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