Quarantined down under

January 13, 2010 by  


When Charlotte Stokes boarded the plane to go from Vancouver to Australia in August, she was amused by the people who wore masks to protect themselves from catching the H1N1 virus. It hadn’t occurred to her at that time that they were protecting themselves from her.

“I walked into the plane and there were all these people wearing masks, and I thought to myself what stupid over-reacting people,” said Stokes.

Stokes was going to Sydney to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. Two days after she arrived, she was quarantined in her mother’s house because she was suspected of carrying the H1N1 virus.

When the plane landed, Stokes was fatigued and achy, but assumed it was just the effects of a 20-hour flight, so she went to meet the bridal party for a dress fitting.

Soon after, the symptoms started getting worse.

“I saw all the bridal party and then the next morning I felt really sick. It felt like I had taken an aspirin on an empty stomach,” said Stokes.

She went to a clinic and told them that she had just arrived back from North America and they automatically assumed she had the H1N1 virus. Because test results would take about a week to process, she was quarantined at her mother’s house.

“Immediately if they thought you had the swine flu you weren’t allowed to leave the house for five days,” said Stokes, “so I went all the way to Australia to sit at home for five days.”

At first she did not believe she had the H1N1 virus because she didn’t have all the usual symptoms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the symptoms of H1N1 are those of any other flu: fever, aches and pains, sore throat, coughing, diarrhoea and headaches.

Stokes said she did not experience the cold-like symptoms such as coughing and a sore throat, but certainly felt the other flu symptoms such as alternating chills and fever. She said she felt as if she was hungover from dehydration and had an intensely high fever.

To Stokes, who usually combated the flu by resting for a day and then heading back to work, the H1N1 virus was like the flu on steroids.

“I seriously have never felt so sick in my life,” she said. “I could not have left the house even if I wanted to. I couldn’t even get up to get a glass of water without a huge amount of effort.”

WHO makes clear that those with underlying health issues and weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable to H1N1 and will have more severe symptoms than a healthy person who catches the virus.

“I could see how if you already were really sick how this could put you over the edge,” Stokes said.

After the five days of quarantine, Stokes had another checkup and was given a clean bill of health. She found out a few days later that it was the H1N1 virus that had made her so ill.

None of the people in the wedding party contracted the virus and Stokes was able to be a part of the wedding, although she did have to deal with the stigma of being the “swine-flu girl.”


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