Recent generations have had a kind of cultural mysophobia instilled in us from an early age. AIDS emerged within six months of my birth and was always in my consciousness; eight year old Sally and I decided not to make an oath of our friendship in blood in case one of us was infected. I do not know quite how many diseases I was vaccinated against and indeed, my health was excellent as a child.
On diagnosis of the condition I developed at fifteen, I was informed that I had simply not had enough bugs and diseases and my immune system had now collapsed, perhaps permanently, in the face of its first significant challenge.
Now personally, I would prefer that people like me became disabled than mothers and fathers had to face the deaths of their infant children to preventable diseases – if indeed there is a connection between my pathetic immune system (and the increasing rate of asthma and other allergies) and vaccination. My point is that I am not naïve about the potential effects of infection.
One of the chief candidates was Epstein-Barr which causes Glandular Fever or Mono.
Meet Epstein-Barr, also know as the kissing disease, because that’s one way of contracting it and most people who get Glandular Fever are adolescents who do a lot of that sort of thing. With tongues. Scary stuff, eh? You could be ill for months and if you are unlucky, you could end up like me. Don’t kiss any icky boys or slimy girls and you’ll be safe, right?
Well no. In the developing world, there is an almost 100% infection rate among babies and in the UK about eighty percent of us carry the antibodies; evidence that at some point we were infected and are now immune. Most of us didn’t get sick at all, however many tonsils we tickled.
Similarly; herpes. Eek! Herpes! Seventy percent of us have facial herpes that causes coldsores. About one in five of us have the genital version of the virus. That means that a state of herpes infection is actually normal; fortunately most of us are oblivious to the fact because our immune systems tuck these things out of sight and most of us don’t experience (or at least don’t notice) symptoms.
Just recently in the news there was the suggestion that students should be wary of the number of partners they kissed because of the heightened risk of Meningitis. Meningitis is serious, it can kill and otherwise cause severe lifelong impairment. Yet one in ten of us carry the bacteria involved. Without behaving abnormally, there is very little you can do to guarantee your health and therefore, your life.
People do make you sick. Human contact is a bloody dangerous business. And as I say, we are riddled with potentially problematic, even potentially deadly organisms who largely manage to coexist with us. Some of them even benefit us. It is just the way the world is.
So, The Goldfish Guide To Avoiding Sickness From Infectious Diseases
- Hand-washing and food hygiene is all essential. It is very easy to make oneself very ill with the toxins your body has already disposed off, so to speak, as well as bacteria in meat and eggs which is destroyed with cooking. That stuff has to be taken seriously.
- There is no excuse not to use a condom. They are an effective form of contraceptive and protection from at least the ew nasty diseases. When you don’t want to use a condom, and either party has slept with anyone else ever, get screened. If you are grown-up enough to have sex, you are grown-up enough to feel no shame in this. The vast majority of STIs cause very little harm unless they go untreated.
- If you have an infectious disease such as the flu or a sickness bug, stay away from other people until it has run its course. Remember that your sniffle could do a lot more harm to someone with a vulnerable immune system, who may be a colleague, or someone next to you on the bus – apart from the fact that making your colleagues sick will double your workload when they’re off work in a few days time.
- Have a good idea about the symptoms of serious infectious diseases like Meningitis so that on the rare occasions that it does crop up (and you don’t need a SU card to get sick), the damage can be kept to an absolute minimum.
- Look after your immune system by exercising, eating healthily, giving up smoking but most essentially, getting plenty of human contact. Then at least if you do catch the dreaded lurgy, your immune system will be boosted by all the love, laughter, support and stress-relief provided by whichever bastard infected you.
A competitive price around our way.