You avoid touching door handles and other germ-laden surfaces.
No handshaking, just fist bumps.
No hugs that involve skin-to-skin contact.
You change train cars or move to the back of the bus to avoid hackers and sneezers who proliferate at this time of the year.
You keep a bottle of sanitizer handy and slather it on so often that your hands turn to sandpaper.
Yes, you did get the flu shot—as soon as it was available.
And then, infuriatingly, you get the flu.
Cold comfort (sorry) that medical officials remind Americans that the flu shot isn’t completely effective this year or any year. Scientists have to guess which flu virus or viruses will be most prevalent, and they often guess at least partly wrong. Flu is a wily foe.
This year, federal officials say, the virus hit early and hard.
The good news is that the vaccine covered the predominant H3N2 strain this season. The bad news: This virus is known for its severity and its evasive maneuvering around the shield vaccinations provide.
Every year, millions of Americans fail to heed medical advice to get the shot. Reasons (read: excuses) abound, none of them good. If avoiding the nasty symptoms of the flu isn’t enough incentive for you to get the shot—which even at this point in January is still a good idea—then consider this: Taking the shot doesn’t merely immunize you against the flu. It inoculates you from all those smug know-it-alls whose first remark upon learning of your misery is always the same: Too bad you didn’t get the flu shot. Tsk. Tsk.
Imagine your delight in issuing a stinging riposte to all those people who assume you didn’t get the shot. You can rouse yourself from a supine position, fix them with a steely glare and croak out: Yes I did, you (add favorite pejorative noun here).
That retort, however, loses its potency if you drag your flu-ridden carcass into the office, expecting to be welcomed as a noble comrade who soldiers on even with a fever, cold sweats and uncontrolled coughing. Forget it.
Anyone who comes to the office with the flu, spreading germs in his or her wake, should be treated as a pariah to be quarantined. The sufferer immediately forfeits any claim of superiority for having been immunized.
The flu spreads because people spread when they’re sick. In 2015, we wrote about MIT scientists who study sneeze dynamics and droplet formation to thwart epidemics and solve the mystery of why some people spread infection via sneeze more effectively than others.
What we learned then still applies: In enclosed spaces, like train cars, a sneeze that doesn’t get expelled into a tissue (or into the crook of your arm) releases mushroom clouds of germs that within minutes can reach ceiling height and cover an entire train car or room.
Every boss, every co-worker, every sane person should deliver the same message to flu sufferers: You aren’t that important. We can get along for a few days without you. Or consider this: If you infect your office mates, you’ll be the one doing their work when you’re back and they’re still home in bed, suffering and blaming you. In other words, lose-lose.
The flu season still has weeks to run. Everyone who’s sick, stay home. Everyone else, good luck.