Sunday, June 14, 2009

STI: Virus buster

June 11, 2009

The Pro

Virus buster

Dr Asok Kurup, 41, a senior consultant in the department of infectious diseases at Singapore General Hospital, tells POON CHIAN HUI why microscopic organisms turn him on

I decided to specialise in infectious diseases...

Because it is an exciting field that will probably turn me on even when I'm in my 80s.

There are many dimensions - disease outbreaks, emerging and re-emerging pathogens, infections involving organ transplants and in people with weakened immune systems from cancer or untreated Aids.

We also have the responsibility of educating health-care practitioners on the judicious use of antibiotics to limit antibiotic resistance and to practise infection control measures.

The immune system is fascinating because...

Mother Nature has endowed us with a complex and bewildering array of defences to protect us from harmful microbes.

There are many layers to our defence system, which coordinate and work continuously even when we sleep. It also has a memory for some previously encountered microbes to protect us from another attack by the same organism.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be a...

Pest buster. Instead of pesticides and traps, I use medicine and other medical strategies to fight offending organisms that invade our body.

I have come across all types of cases...

Like this feisty 90-year-old patient with a severe spine infection that rendered her almost paralysed below the waist. The spirited geriatrician pressed on with treatment and rehabilitation.

Now, not only can she walk, but she regularly goes to Genting Highlands for her gambling fix too. Another patient, a calligraphy artist, lost all her limbs to gangrene as a result of severe infection but began painting again with the help of prosthetic limbs.

A typical day for me would be...

Weekday mornings are organised chaos when I get my two older sons, aged nine and seven, ready for school. My youngest son is two years old. He stays at home with my homemaker wife, who is 35.

I fight traffic to try and reach the hospital before 8am - sometimes I give up and take the MRT.

The daily grind is a flurry of activities comprising inpatient consultations, outpatient clinics, meetings, administrative work and teaching. Available energy - boosted by caffeine - is spent on research.

I usually bring work home but nothing gets done because I am overwhelmed by my three zippy boys. I collapse in a heap at midnight after some quiet time with my equally fatigued wife.

I love patients who are...

Honest about themselves and who take their medicine compliantly. I also appreciate patients who treat medical staff with respect.

Patients who get my goat are...

Those who choose trivial pursuits over their health. They would default on follow-up treatment despite numerous reminders.

One little known fact about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is...

It is now a controllable chronic condition and certainly not a death warrant as it was more than a decade ago.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

The day all germ-carrying cockroaches are eliminated - but that is another story.

Some HIV-infected patients think their family will shun them if they know the truth. But the reverse sometimes occur. It is heartwarming to see relatives who continue to care for and support these patients.

It breaks my heart when...

There are unusual and unexpected complications despite the best treatment and support. Having to let go of a loved one is really tough.

I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

I wouldn't know where to channel my energy and passion. However, I would certainly be useless as a bona-fide pest buster. I'm sure the pests would end up busting me instead.

My best tip...

Although you can avoid a number of ailments by keeping yourself healthy, remember that there are preventive medicine for malaria and vaccinations for diseases like typhoid, hepatitis A and B, which may be important prior to overseas travel.

Also, elderly people and those with chronic conditions like asthma should get the annual seasonal influenza vaccination.

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