Sunday, March 16, 2008

On becoming a sniffle-wimp

I have a cold this weekend - not an unusually harsh cold, but enough to make me grumpy and unenthused about, oh, everything. Friday I went home a few hours early so that I could get an early start on resting up all weekend.

I rarely do that. I never go home sick. Mom didn't keep us home from school over every sniffle, didn't take us to the doctor for every scrape and cough, and we just learned that runny noses and owies were par for the course. It wasn't about bravery; trips to the doctor cost money.

One of my projects at work revolves around the smallpox eradication program in India from the 1970's, a feat which was achieved by intensive surveillance and quick containment. A program of widespread vaccination had failed to do the job, but door to door visits, rewards for reporting cases, follow-up visits, and rapid vaccinations in affected villages did the job in just a few years. It's a truly remarkable success story for an international agency.

If (some say when) a flu or SARS outbreak occurs, this is the same strategy that is hoped to bring a pandemic under control before the damage is catastrophic. It's tougher than in 1919, because people travel around the world faster and more frequently than they did then. You have a short window available to try to isolate the virus before hot spots have flared up all over the world.

Which brings me back to my cold. If I were ever be infected in the early stages of a pandemic, I'm afraid I might not help the cause very well. I would have to be very sick for very many days before it ever crossed my mind that I should see a doctor, nor would I likely have stayed home while symptoms were still mild. Unless the public health officials had identified me as being in contact with another infected person, my role might go undetected altogether. The odds are long, of course, but it nags me a bit that my suck-it-up habits could make me a public menace some day.

1 comment:

James Hanley said...

I've heard teachers complain about parents who send their kids to school sick, just because it tends to spread the viruses, and cause more sick days.

Of course if everyone sucked it up, there wouldn't be any sick days anyway!