Linda Lewis Griffith

Be courteous with your cough

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.


Get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months receive an annual flu vaccine. It reports that the effectiveness of the vaccine varies. But studies show it was associated with a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations in adults of all ages during the 2011-12 season and a 74 percent reduction in flu-related pediatric intensive care admissions from 2010-12.

Vaccinate your children. Not only do vaccinations protect our children, they benefit others who are too young to be vaccinated or unable to be vaccinated because of allergies or weakened immune systems, according to

Call ahead. If you have any symptoms, such as a scratchy throat or cough, and are going to someone’s house, call before you arrive to apprise your hosts of your condition. That gives them the choice of whether or not they want to be exposed.

Cancel appointments. Your dentist, hairstylist and piano teacher don’t want your germs. Call and reschedule if you feel sick. Wise professionals should waive late-cancellation fees to encourage ill clients to stay home.

Stay home. Depending on your virus, you may be contagious before you develop symptoms and remain contagious for two weeks after you’ve recovered, says the Mayo Clinic website. Bed rest also speeds your recovery and prevents you from making mistakes because of impaired functioning.

Keep children home from school or day care. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep kids at home if they have a fever, are not well enough to participate in class, or you think they may be contagious to other children.

Wear a mask. If you or someone you live with is sick, consider wearing a surgical mask. Research published in the October 2009 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine showed that washing hands and wearing face masks were effective in stopping the spread of disease when done within 36 hours of being exposed.