Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Be A Typhoid Mary

I originally prepared this article for Christian Fiction Online magazine. My thanks to Bonnie Calhoun for permission to reprint it here.

Mary Mallon worked as a cook in the early 1900s. In 1906, although she had no symptoms of the disease, she was the unwitting carrier of the dread disease typhoid fever. Since that time, the appellation Typhoid Mary is given to persons who spread infections to those around them, often quite innocently.

The annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers in September will bring together a huge group of people from all over the United States and other parts of the world. And it’s a certainty that some of them will either be ill when they leave home or become ill while at the conference. None of us wants to be a Typhoid Mary. Can we do anything to keep from spreading our germs?

Most respiratory illnesses are spread by droplet contamination. Droplets of saliva from a cough or sneeze that are transferred to hands can live from two to eight hours—plenty long enough to be passed on to another person. Years ago most of us formed the habit of covering our mouths with our hands when we cough and sneeze. Now that’s changed. Ideally, we should sneeze into a tissue, which we should dispose of as soon as possible. If we can’t do that, we should cover our mouths and noses with our sleeves.

Having said that, it becomes pretty obvious that a major part of prevention is hand washing. Here’s the Centers for Disease Control suggestion:

• Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. 

• Rub your hands together to make a lather, and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 

• Continue rubbing your hands for at least twenty seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. 

• Rinse your hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Can’t wash your hands? Use a commercial hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. These can kill most—but not all—commonly encountered germs.

Would taking the flu vaccine help? Definitely. Although flu season supposedly doesn’t start until winter, significant outbreaks occur every fall, and for years I’ve taken my flu vaccine in early September. Matter of fact, Kay and I had our shots this past week. What if you get sick anyway? Unfortunately, patients with flu are still infectious up to ten days after the onset of symptoms, although Tamiflu, one of the new anti-viral medications, can shorten this (and the course of the illness) slightly.

Just so you don't decide to cancel your attendance at the ACFW conference and hibernate in a plastic bubble, realize that these common sense precautions can go a long way in keeping you well. Can they get you an appointment with an agent or editor? Sorry, I can’t provide a prescription for that. You’re on your own there.


Sandra Heska King said...

I asked my daughter some time back what was the best word of advice I'd ever given her. I hoped for something deep. She said, "Wash your hands and don't touch the doorknob." Sigh.

See you there!

Richard Mabry said...

Sandra, Take heart. At least some of your advice stuck, and it's pretty practical.

Gwen Stewart said...

I think working with 1,150 students per week has given me an immune system of steel. :-) I rarely catch infections anymore...and oh, I hope I didn't just do myself in by admitting that!

Great advice here. Thanks, Dr. Mabry!