Checking up baby: a doctor cares for a baby in a Paris hospital, 2013. Photo: Getty
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The baby only had chickenpox. But then she suddenly stopped breathing

Dr Phil Whitaker’s Health Matters column. 

It seemed a straightforward visit – a feverish 13-month-old in an outlying village whose mum couldn’t bring her to surgery. I drove out on the lunchtime round and it didn’t take long to ascertain the reason for her daughter’s temperature: the first spots of chickenpox were apparent when I removed her Babygro. I continued my examination, making sure everything else was all right, and was in the middle of listening to her chest when suddenly the child arched her back grotesquely, her body incredibly stiff. Her eyes rolled, leaving just the whites visible, and she stopped breathing.

For a few seconds, my shocked brain refused to think of anything medically useful. Then, two things happened. The little girl’s body began to jerk violently, accompanied by her strangulated efforts to draw breath. And her mother began to scream.

I was inexperienced – this was during my first months in general practice – and I felt a huge surge of adrenalin. In the hospital, where I’d worked up until then, the press of a button would bring colleagues running in seconds and every conceivable drug was to hand. Out here in the middle of nowhere, aside from a stethoscope, a torch and a prescription pad, I had nothing.

The mother was hysterical – it did look for all the world as though an infanticidal poltergeist was choking the life out of her child. I managed to maintain enough presence of mind to put the girl in the recovery position and note the time (seizures that last longer than five minutes may need treatment to terminate them). By insistently and loudly repeating the mother’s name, I eventually broke through her terror and got her to dial 999.

This was almost certainly a febrile convulsion – a seizure associated with a high temperature. Despite the alarming appearances, they are in essence benign. They usually stop spontaneously within a few minutes, as this one did. For a first episode, admission is advised to rule out serious causes of fits such as meningitis, but subsequently, once a child is known to be prone to them, convulsions can be managed at home.

It used to be thought that taking steps to reduce fever must be helpful in preventing their occurrence. For years, doctors told parents to strip their febrile child off, put a fan to blow over them, even sponge them with tepid water. However, measures that cool the outside of the body often result in a reduction in skin blood flow. The skin is the body’s radiator: shut down its circulation and the heat simply remains inside, elevating the core temperature further.

More recently, advice has shifted to paracetamol and ibuprofen (antipyretics) – drugs that can but don’t always reduce fever. Many doctors and nurses exhort parents to monitor their children’s temperature, dose them up frequently and seek help if the fever isn’t “controlled”. A mythology has developed in which the fever is viewed as a dangerous phenomenon, one requiring treatment, and a cause for grave concern if it doesn’t respond.

Fevers, though, are part of our body’s natural fightback against infection. High temperatures, though unnerving if they cause a convulsion or delirium, are in reality helpful. Interestingly, recent research suggests that febrile convulsions are provoked not by the fever per se but by rapid changes in temperature. There is no evidence that antipyretics
are of any use in preventing seizures; indeed, they may make matters worse. It is possible that using them routinely to blunt this important part of the body’s immune response may ultimately prolong the course of infectious illnesses.

Children outgrow febrile convulsions. They’re most common in the first year, becoming progressively less frequent thereafter and virtually unheard of beyond the age of five. This coincides with the maturation of the “electrical insulation” – called myelin sheaths – that surrounds nerve cells in the brain. Once myelin has been fully laid down, the “short circuits” between nerve cells that kick-start seizures seem no longer to occur. It will take far longer to dismantle the mythology that surrounds fever, overturning beliefs that have become as ingrained in the health-care professions as they are in the wider culture.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear