A daily bulletin of news & opinion

6 December 2012

It’s that time of year in London when more people seem to be ill than healthy. The windows of drugstores are festooned with advertisements trying to make flu look cosy. Headlines on the trashier newspapers scream that more people have norovirus than ever before. There’s a residual smell of Lemsip in most offices and pocket packs of paper tissues have been promoted to prime position next to the checkout in every supermarket. And suddenly the population is divided into two camps: those who deal with illness and those who don’t.

Friends, colleagues and even loved ones I feel I know inside out can floor me with their behaviour when sick, to the point that I question if I ever really knew them at all. There are some very basic codes of conduct that come with being ill and it astonishes me the number of people who seemingly never got the memo.

Let’s start with the basics. If you sneeze or cough, do it behind your hand. If you have to blow your nose (and do always blow rather than sniff, please) then do it away from others, ideally in a bathroom. Wash your hands. Repeatedly. Good old-fashioned soap and warm water kills germs in ways that new fangled antibacterial hand gel could only dream of.

One of the nastier facets of the human condition I’ve witnessed is an attitude that ill people assume whereby they seek to spread their illness out of spite: “I’m ill so I don’t care if other people get ill too.” Consider karma, though. If you delight in surreptitiously spreading your germs I’m pretty sure the harmless cold you start out with will come back as a rather crippling gastroenteritis.

Another rule: don’t talk about your illness. There’s a curious compulsion people have to offload an in depth blow-by-blow account of their deteriorating health. If there’s anything more boring than having a cold it’s hearing the details of someone else’s. As for stomach flu, no one needs to know that it came from both ends or how many times or what it looked like.

The most commonsensical rule of all is this: if you are ill with anything contagious then for heaven’s sake stay at home. We’re blessed with mobile office equipment these days in the shape of smartphones and laptops that mean you can be reached should your company be on the brink of imploding in your absence. Seal your doors, climb into bed and watch back episodes of Homeland. Or, better still, sleep. Nobody will ever like, pity or congratulate a germ-ridden, mucus-dripping martyr.


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