Flu season is right around the corner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 in 5 Americans will get influenza and 200,000 will be hospitalized with severe and life-threatening complications.
Influenza isn’t the only thing we catch. A vial full of different viruses is scheming to make us sniffle and wheeze, vomit and spend all day near the toilet.
Interestingly, we’re incredibly cavalier about the spread of these microscopic marauders. Perhaps you’ve had houseguests who announce on arrival, “Gosh, I’m really sick. I hope you don’t mind.” Or you’ve had clients who walk into your cubicle, sneeze explosively then say, “Sorry. I’ve got a bad cold.”
Of course, sometimes illness sneaks up on us. Your 4-year-old is perfectly healthy when you strap him into his car seat. Then he throws up on the way to Nana’s.
And for many of us, garden-variety viruses are merely nuisances. You’re tired and your nose drips like a faucet for six days. But you recover.
For other folks, every illness is potentially serious. For those who have respiratory conditions or are undergoing chemotherapy, a minor cold can quickly turn deadly. Even if you don’t have health problems, you still don’t want to get sick.
That’s why I’m proposing an illness etiquette, a kind of Emily Post-style guideline of dos and don’ts to minimize the spread of disease. I want these rules to be discussed and refined. Hopefully, they’ll become social norms.
I’m certainly not a germophobe. I understand that living carries a risk of getting sick, but let’s not wait for the arrival of a deadly contagion before doing what’s right for our collective health.