Ahhhhh Choo – The Ethics of Germs

does cold make you sick
Suzanne B. Robotti
Suzanne B. Robotti Executive Director
Last updated:

Ugh, I have a cold. My sinuses are congested, my throat hurts from nasal drip and my head aches. Cold? Flu? Sinus infection? Whatever, I feel lousy. What are the ethics of being in public with a cold or the flu? A few years ago that never occured to me. I powered through every cough, sniffle and fever never missing a day of work. Cough drops were the one concession I would make, no DayQuil or Musinex for me. If asked I would have pointed out that being exposed to germs improves a person’s immune system. I was doing the world a favor. My thinking has evolved. Maybe I’m just more of a wimp. Now when I get a cold or the flu I accept it as nature’s way of suggesting I take a break. I stay inside, read and nap. Yesterday I even took Advil Cold and Sinus because it has pseudophedrine in it and my sinuses were clogged. It helped greatly, my headache receded and I could breathe a little better. With the international discussion of Ebola ethics, I’ve become more aware of my role in keeping my neighbors healthy or exposing them to unnecessary risk. In the past 24-hours:

  • I didn’t go to dinner with friends last night as scheduled, I sent my husband without me and stayed in. A crowded restaurant? Coughing on friends and strangers? Not fair to them.
  • I have a workout scheduled for 1pm today. My body is exhausted, I’m going to skip it.
  • I have a short business meeting close to home at 5:30 tonight. I’ve warned everyone that I have the flu so I’ll go, but I’ll sit away from people and not shake hands.
  • I promised to drive my mother-in-law 2 hours to the family house in Connecticut tomorrow for Thanksgiving. I’m already feeling better today and I’m confident I can do the drive tomorrow. But I’m worried I’ll still be contagious. My M-I-L is 91 and 10 months. It took a few phone calls, but I found another family member to drive her. Even my M-I-L thought I was being overly cautious, but I don’t want to be responsible for giving a 92-year old woman the flu. The flu can be particularly dangerous for a person that age.

So I now choose my ethical stance as I do my medicine: with an awareness that the risks I’m willing to take have consequences for me and for others.

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