Sunday, March 05, 2006

Don't people just make you sick?

Inspired by Charles Dawson and his allegedly Distasteful Subject.

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 na├»ve 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.

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.
At this point I must remind you of the wonderful Giant Microbes website first pointed out by Gimpy Mumpy, where you can contract various diseases, including Syphilis (right), for a mere £6.25.

A competitive price around our way.


Charlesdawson said...

Excellent post, Goldfish!

I would only add, to the list of advice:
1. learn the difference between a bacterium (one bacterium, two or more bacteria, OK?) and a virus. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses.
2. If you develop an upper respiratory infection, stay home, drink plenty of fluids, keep warm, seek medical advice if it doesn't clear up after 72 hours.
3. Most minor infections, unless you have a compromised immune system and/or are very old or in infancy, will self-heal whatever you do or don't do.
4. Most over-the-counter remedies are palliative only, and not very good at that. Save your money.
5. On the other hand, if you are prescribed antibiotics, complete the full course, even though you may start to feel better after a couple of days. Failing to do so will contribute to the number of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The only excuse for discontinuing the course, is if you start to get allergic reactions and feel worse. In which case, contact the prescriber for advice.

(signed) Hippocrates' favourite son

The Goldfish said...

I don't understand how folks confuse bacteria and viruses and yet it is so important. Not just about the antibiotics, but to understand how these things can and cannot be spread.

Anonymous said...

The only trouble with staying away from people (work colleagues etc) until an infectious bug has run its course, is that employers are becoming less tolerant of time taken off sick. Despite fine-sounding words and phrases like "We don't want people coming into work when they are ill", everything about their absence management programmes revolves around the presuppositions that:
~ your absence is a cost;
~ you are most likely skiving; and
~ any cumulative annual absence in excess of their targets casts your value as an employee into doubt.

As the targets become more stringent every year (infinitely continuous "improvement" - bah!) we now see loyal and productive staff having their entire career and continued worth being questioned because they have had a total of 7 days off in a year. Given that a decent bout of proper flu will take one out of circulation for up to 5 days, that doesn't leave much room for manoeuvre ('specially if you are all handicapped with pain and stuff and need the odd day off because you simply can't get down the stairs).

So the message from an increasing number of employers is ""Don't stay off work unless you are absolutely bed-ridden - and then not for too long. Otherwise, come on in to our overheated open-plan environment, bugs and all.” Hopefully you'll catch enough things that, like Mr. Burns, they'll hold each other in check.

Charlesdawson said...

Better still, go and sneeze over senior management.

The Goldfish said...

I realise this is often the case, Dude. My sister is a teacher and although she has a healthy immune system, she is very often catching bugs and things because the schools are abound with them. And of course, she can't potter about in the corner of the office on a bad day; she has to be performing, shouting over a class of teenagers all day long. Yet she gets in a lot of trouble for being absent.

Recently she found she had nodules on her vocal cords, which could wreck her voice entirely if she doesn't rest her voice when her throat is sore. But, well you can imagine the reaction that got from management.