IT’S been more than a month since I wrote my last “weekly” column for this website. First I had ‘flu then, despite the physical symptoms wearing off, my mental energy level remained at only just above reanimated for another few weeks.

This mental depletion gave me a sense of the state of mind of a very old person or someone on the brink of starvation or in another barely endurable physical state _ all your brain has the strength to do is to run the necessary functions to stay alive.

One eats, respires, excretes and presses the right buttons on the remote control, and that’s about it.

It’s strange, the body-mind nexus. We assume the seamlessness of the relationship between the two until death do us part. But a serious trauma to the body or even a heavy dose of ‘flu can send the mind skittering out of the body in a way that leaves one doubting the very fundamentals of existence.

Seven years ago, with another dose of ‘flu, I walked the entire 35 minutes home from work with my mind shadowing my body at one remove. I was conscious of a missed beat between my ears picking up a sound and my brain registering it. Only my eyesight was in synch.

There was no pleasure in this out-of-body experience — just a fear that I would continue to feel the dislocation from thereon in.

While I struggled to throw off the zombifying after-effects of my most recent viral infection, bird ‘flu cranked up as a clear and present danger with a rash of human deaths in Jakarta.

International networking is now going on at agency and ministerial level to prepare for the day when the bird ‘flu mutates and becomes transmissible not just from chicken to human but between humans. This week I heard that an acquaintance had outlaid $50 a pop on doses of the anti-viral medication Tamiflu™ for his family. (Did you note that free plug for Roche, the Swiss company that makes the stuff. I’ll be expecting a free logo scribble pad and clicker pen in return for that.)

Freaking out

Should we all be freaking out now about a global outbreak of killer ‘flu? For once, I have no opinion.

Ross Clark, writing in my favourite Tory rag, The Spectator, has no doubt: the bird ‘flu pandemic panic is being brought to you by the same “experts” who predicted that vCJD, the human variant of mad cow disease, would kill 50,000 people in Britain. The crest of that particular catastrophe has passed, Clark says, leaving just 150 people confirmed dead.

He argues that it’s a false analogy to compare the effects of a new virulent influenza outbreak with those of the 1918 pandemic, which killed five times more people than the 8 million or so who died on the battlefields of the Great War, which was coming to an end as the pandemic was spreading. Clark says that ‘flu hit populations worn down by the years of war.

Undoubtedly the combatants in the trenches were worn down and ripe for viral attack but I’m not sure that the folks back home were subject to the same privations.

Also, the horrible thing about the 1918 ‘flu is that it predominantly killed people in the prime of life —_ those aged between 20 and 40 —_ not the very young or old. Why? No one seems to know.

What was noted about the 1918 flu is that a fifth of the world’s population was estimated to have contracted it, of whom 2.5 per cent died. Western Samoa, strangely, was the only nation unaffected.

Those who survived often suffered either temporary or permanent brain damage.

“Several million developed encephalitis lethargica, in which victims were trapped in a permanent sleep-like and rigid state … In others, normal thought processes were impaired. During negotiations to end World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson was struck with ‘flu, and people around him noted that his mental abilities never fully recovered, Human News website writer Larry Baum, amongst others, notes.

Oh no, there really is a zombie ‘flu effect. I think I might panic. On second thoughts, my brain is too deadened for that. Just pass the phone — I’ve got to ring my stockbroker. “Buy Roche, buy Roche …”