…the rest of us. Shorter version: you are an ambulatory germ dispersal unit, so be responsible.
I try to make it a regular habit to go through the ScienceBlogs 24-hour feed, and in doing so, I came across this post by ScienceBlogling Jason Rosenhouse talking about his experience with what might have been TEH SWINEY FLOO!, and my jaw dropped when I read this:
I didn’t even cancel any of my classes, though I did cancel some office hours to get home and back into bed more quickly.
I became more troubled as none of the commenters seemed bothered by this. Fortunately, Orac showed up and responded far more tactfully than I would have (the Mad Biologist does not do tactful very well…):
I hate to tell you this, but that was highly irresponsible of you. You put your students and coworkers at risk for catching whatever it was that you had. You should have stayed home from work. It’s attitudes like yours that spread the flu, be it the swine flu or the regular seasonal flu.
Orac was dead on target, but I think this little episode represents a lack of internalization of what a major, if often not explicitly stated, rationale for public hygiene and vaccination is.
Public hygiene measures (e.g., isolation, hand washing) and vaccination are not used to protect you from other people.
They are used to protect other people from you.
Now, we usually don’t phrase it this way, although you might have heard the phrase ‘herd immunity.’ After all, these measures do significantly lower and prevent infection of those who engage in them. But we are dealing with infectious, transmissible agents. To the extent that you can’t be infected–and therefore infectious–the rest of us are safer.
Most people don’t like being told that they’re ambulatory germ dispersal units, but that’s what you (and me too!) are.
In these situations, it’s always easy to come up with justifications for practicing poor public hygiene, such as ‘everyone’ already has been exposed, or it won’t make anyone really sick. And you know this how exactly? The magic epidemiology lab in your head? There’s a reason why so many people here at ScienceBlogs encourage both vaccination and good public hygiene: it prevents illness and save lives.
If each of us to takes personal responsibility and protects each other, we will save lives. It’s that simple. If you won’t lose your job, please take the time off when you’re sick.
Update: A Cornell student has died from swine flu, on a campus with 520 diagnosed cases.
Mandatory disclaimer: Inevitably, someone will talk about people who can’t take time off from work, else they lose their jobs (something I’ve discussed too). That’s a lousy deal–it’s also a really stupid business policy, as employees come down with the bug. But I don’t know of a single university that has encouraged employees to show up sick; most have strongly discouraged this behavior.