Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Yes, You ARE Contagious!

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published January 12, 2012] © 2012

We’re all familiar with the common fibs people tell – “It’s in the mail,”  “I only had one,” and “No, I haven’t had a face lift, I’m just really relaxed.”  But this time of year, the one that really gets me is “I’m not contagious.”   The speaker invariably has a hacking cough reminiscent of Greta Garbo dying of consumption in the last scenes of Camille. 

Let me say up front that I am hardly a germaphobe.   (One look at my house would convince you.)  But some of the worst illnesses I’ve ever caught have been from people who “weren’t contagious.”  Fortunately, neither Olof nor I get sick all that often but when we do, we tend to get afflictions that take up residence in our obviously weak lungs and refuse to be evicted. So we do our best to avoid them.

There are no lack of virulent organisms floating around this time of year.  Everything you touch is a source of some pathogen (including and especially the keypad at your local pharmacy) but other than washing your hands a lot, you just have to hope your immune system is up to the challenge.  But why dare it by inviting plague into your house? 

Several weeks ago, some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time arrived for dinner, the husband recently returned from a trip through what I call the ebola airline hubs in Europe where the world’s grodiest germs have a chance to mix and match.  The first thing I noticed was that he was exhibiting the Green Snot Sign.  There are few microbes I hate more than green snot microbes which from my personal experience are pernicious and have a door knob life span of decades.  Further, the Manual of Mom Medicine, paragraph six, article two, clearly states that yellow snot is your standard basic cold but green snot requires antibiotics.  As if on cue, our guest croaked from his severely laryngitic throat that he had started antibiotics approximately five seconds before so not to worry, he was “not contagious.” 

I immediately considered letting this guy eat alone out on our uncovered patio in the rain where his illness might progress to pneumonia to which he would hopefully succumb before I had to let him back in.  Olof, a frequent business traveler, has come back from those same airports with some seriously nasty stuff. (Green snot from an ebola airport probably IS ebola.)   But I was overruled by my kinder gentler Other Half, who thinks it’s not polite to be mean to people one has invited over even if they are attempting to kill us. 

Our guest not only coughed and sneezed pretty much non-stop but kept repeating, probably in response to my cringing looks every time he blew Snot Verde across my dinner table, that his doctor told him that once he started taking antibiotics he wasn’t contagious.  He said they’d thought of cancelling but didn’t want to disappoint us.

Please.  Disappoint us.

Let me just say I have no medical background whatsoever, other than having been previously married to a physician, including the medical school years, which makes me among the most medically dangerous people on the planet.  But I would still like to officially challenge every law of contagion ever put out there.  According to the Dr. Inga School of Unsubstantiated Medical Facts, if you are even remotely sick, you are contagious.    So when you say “my doctor says I’m not contagious” (like I believe you, or him), I think it’s only fair to ask for his or her number because I think he or she ought to be willing to treat me for free when I get sick from you.  I’d also like affidavits of non-contagability, lab results not more than two hours old indicating the absence of a single shedding rhinovirus, recent articles from The New England Journal citing conclusive evidence that contagiousness can even be quantified, and a Hazmat suit for the guest (and maybe even the host) to wear.  Let no one say I am unreasonable.

But meanwhile, while the flu season lasts, I’m hoping you’ll give me a head(cold)'s up.  My aging immune system thanks you.

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