Our panic over COVID-19 is being driven by media fictions: not the latest scientific data – MA: Digital Technologies, Communication and Education


Keep these facts in mind and let me tell you about my recent experience of a mystery infection. In late November 2019 I went on a work trip to Java, Indonesia. A few days after I returned I was hit by a bout of illness, of a sort and severity to which I am not typically prone. Although far from being at death’s door, I had a fever, headache and a deep, deep fatigue. I said to family, friends and work colleagues at the time that for five days I felt as if I were about 80 years old. (I am 50, in case you were wondering.)

Well aware of the fact that on my recent journey, I might have contracted something nasty, like malaria or dengue, I brought my health literacy to bear and, as a first step, reviewed available online information and, at least in an initial way, self-diagnosed. I read — yes, on Wikipedia — that as I was not vomiting, I probably didn’t have dengue, at least. In the end, I decided that I might have contracted Chikungunya virus: I had never heard of this before, but the description of symptoms broadly matched, and this was a disease present in Java and I had certainly been bitten by mosquitoes there (the disease vector in this case). Accurate or not, this self-diagnosis was at least reassuring as the information I could then find on Chikungunya suggested that I would be sick for a few days, but it was not a serious illness and would clear up by itself. And this is, indeed, what happened. Had I not started feeling better I would have gone to the doctor, but there turned out to be no need.