Georgina Guedes

Keep your disease away from me!

2012-05-17 12:30

Georgina Guedes

The old me – the one with a permanent job and no kids – didn't mind getting a bout of flu occasionally. Sure, it was crap to have a tight chest or a streaming nose and to ache all over, but there was a certain indulgent kind of pleasure in bundling my sick self up in a duvet, medicating myself heavily and making great inroads into good book.

Starting freelancing put a rapid end to this pleasure, though, because I'm now on deadline for one client or another every day, so there's no “convenient” time to get sick. Children followed in short order, and they really blew any sick-fun out of the water because of their unrelenting demands and likelihood of getting miserably sick themselves.

So, while I always used to tell sick people to stay home and get well, I am now fairly militant about this rule of courtesy and common sense. Because I work from home I'm also able to pinpoint with a fair degree of accuracy where any illness I come down with was contracted in the first place, so my ire often has an identifiable target.  

I'm not quite at the point of waterless hand cleaner and anti-virus spray just yet, but I'm close.

My OCD tendencies were given a boost yesterday when I popped into Woolies to purchase some jerseys for the kids. When I made it to the front of the queue to pay, the cashier was so desperately ill that I'm astonished she'd even managed to find her way to work that day.  

She was gargling phlegm like a death rattle, her nose was visibly running and her eyes were red. Worse, she was coughing frequently into her fist – the same fist that was handling my purchases, my packet and my credit card, and then handing me a pen to sign.

Experts tell us that the flu virus can be spread from an infected person to a new host about six feet away by droplets that fly when people cough, sneeze or talk (delightful). They can also be spread by the infected person touching an object that someone else then handles before touching their own eyes, nose or mouth. This is why frequent hand washing is advised.

People with flu are contagious for about one day before the flu symptoms develop – nothing much you can do about that – and five to seven days after, which is when they should be staying home with a good book.

Companies should have a no-health, no-work policy – especially for customer-facing staff. It's really not great to come away from a shopping experience desperately wanting to wash your hands to fend of contagion. If managers spot visibly sick cashiers limping and hacking into the store, they should send them home.

If they're going to insist on keeping them at work, they should at least train them to limit the likelihood of spreading their illness. While we were all raised to cough into our fists, this is actually one of the actions that we carry out that increases the likelihood of disease transmission because of how many other surfaces and individuals our hands come into contact with.

We should, in fact, cough into a thick disposable tissue, a cloth that is then washed in soap and hot water, or even into our own bent elbows – a part of the body that isn't used for much else.

South Africans tend to be fairly stoic about flu infection and transmission. We don't often close down schools, wear masks in public or conduct massive public health campaigns every time a new flu virus is identified. I do think, however, that we should still be considerate about spreading an obvious infection around a public space, simply because it's considerate.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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