My sister Tabitha had a Jem doll. The doll was easy to pick on. She just didn’t quite integrate with Barbie’s world. Jem’s legs were freakishly large and her chest flat. Then again, who wouldn’t look oddly proportioned next to Barbie? Because Tabitha adored that doll, I had to make fun of it. I could drive her nuts by singing Jem’s theme song with altered lyrics: “Germ, is truly contagious, truly, truly, truly contagious!”
I finally made it back to work yesterday, but was sent home because, like Jem, I was truly contagious. Whenever I return to work after being sick, the second question my boss asks me, after the obligatory “How do you feel?”, is “Are you contagious?” As much as I wish I could see germs, I can’t, so I have no idea if they are launching themselves from me to others. Am I surrounded by a fuzzy virus cloud? Am I infecting everyone within a city block? Or has my body vanquished those little devils? In my ignorance, I’ve always repeated the same line: “You’re only contagious for the few days before you become symptomatic.” It made sense; the most successful virus would be the one that could jump from host to host before the first could know he was infected and isolated himself. However, my recent battle with the flu was so horrific that I would not wish it upon anyone, even my coworkers, so after giving my boss my usual flip answer by phone, I turned to the CDC for information on THE FLU.
Factoid 1: “Adults may be contagious from one day prior to becoming sick and for three to seven days after they first develop symptoms.” So – I was half right. A person is contagious before exhibiting symptoms (go germs!), but continues to transmit the virus for long after first becoming sick. Oops.
Factoid 2: “The main way that influenza viruses are spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. (This is called "droplet spread.") This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled (generally up to 3 feet) through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Though much less frequent, the viruses also can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else’s mouth or nose) before washing their hands.” First of all – GROSS, DROPLETS! Second, I probably received my dose of droplets on the city bus. DOUBLE GROSS! Third, my obsessive-compulsive hand washing at work probably did little to protect me. I have chapped my skin with antibacterial soap and hot water to no avail. Finally, I was spewing, no PROPELLING, viruses around office.
Factoid 3: “Although the term "stomach flu" is sometimes used to describe vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, these illnesses are caused by certain other viruses, bacteria, or possibly parasites, and are rarely related to influenza.” At last! My intestinal distresslessness is vindicated! (According to the CDC, children often have gastrointestinal symptoms with the flu, but these symptoms are uncommon in adults.) I am such a grown-up invalid.
After confirming that I had indeed just suffered a bout of the flu, and that, at day seven, I was likely still contagious, I went home. Alas, it is now day eight. My contagious period should be over and, other than a gooey cough, I have no reason not to be at work. “Germ is my name, no one else is the same, Germ is my name!”