Every year about this time we start to sneeze and cough. We probably includes you.
This year in our household I went first, two days after book club met. I had the classic symptoms of a flu-like illness. Raw throat, headache, mild body aches, fever--101, 102, unusual for me, but not truly high. We did have our flu shots, of course, for whatever benefit that provides.
This process is not unfamiliar to us. Year before last, I spent four months with bronchitis, passing it back and forth to my husband, at that time 96 years old.
This year, too, he caught my bug. After one good week of blowing, hawking, mild fatigue--all the delightful attributes of cold season--he was well.
I, however, still had it, phase 2. Deep bronchial cough, fatigue. Ick. Four weeks of it, now, at this writing.
Is that what’s going on? Or…I can hear what you’re thinking.
A popular term this year, which has apparently been a humdinger for such allergies.
Maybe that would be preferable in some ways, despite the weeks of misery.
If I had cedar fever and not a nasty bronchitis or RSV or rhinovirus, then I could go out in public and sneeze and cough to my heart’s content without the fear that I would be exposing the universe to these weeks of discomfort.
That’s what most of us do, isn’t it? Most of us whomp down a decongestant or antihistamine and carry on with our business. We’re all so busy, now.
If we’re wrong, though--if it isn’t an allergy--we are shedding virus for days at a time. Infecting everyone we come near, especially older people or children.
At least, in the grip of flu, most of us feel rotten enough to stay home.
But in the early days of a cold or other respiratory bug, we can’t tell what we have. We work off probabilities.
Allergy-prone folks assume it’s an allergy until it proves otherwise. Non-allergy-prone people assume it’s a virus.
Some of us cannot take decongestants or antihistamines because of medical conditions, including high blood pressure. My husband is one of these.
Also, he is a cancer survivor twice and 98 years old. When you cough on him in public, or onto his food, you may be signing a death warrant.
I do think about things like that. It’s one reason I am an obsessive hand-washer.
Like him, I’m unable to use those symptom relievers, not even codeine to help the cough. For me, public exposure means the loss of at least a month of healthy, productive life, if not more. It is a cost I’d like to avoid.
But how? What can I do to avoid it? What can you do?
Wash your hands; use alcohol-based hand sanitizers; cough into your elbow; be mindful of symptoms and stay home through the shedding period when you have a virus. Use video or conference call technology to attend that important meeting.
(Suggest to your boss that his bottom line will improve if one sick employee is not obliged to spread her virus to all the other employees. A sick person isn’t doing high quality work, anyway.)
No solution is perfect, though. In the case of a cold-type illness, we shed virus for two days before symptoms begin. And the early symptoms are so confusing we can’t really be sure, can we?
So the best we can do is to care. Pay attention. Check symptoms with your doctor or on the internet (WebMD, Mayo Clinic are good sites). Check for fever. (Usually cedar fever doesn’t elevate temperature, at least at first.)
And be mindful in public. All over the world we see people wearing masks to protect themselves and others from airborne toxins. It isn't such a bad idea, is it?
(Note: A version of this appeared in the Fayette County Record in late January, 2020.)