For Anonymous: Passing the Bug

>> Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First an announcement: For the next two months, I'm forgoing tarot questions. Up until recently, I was getting a steady supply of those and, truthfully, they're generally not very interesting for anyone but the questioner. On October 1, I'll open it back up to tarot questions, but I'm going to limit the number to two per month so people can still come here to learn more general stuff.

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Anonymous asked: that if someone gets rid of their bug, someone else can still get it of them a couple of days later?

I'm glad you asked because I only have a vague idea of the answer and love to learn new things. So, off to do research.

Wow, cool. OK, here are some of the answers (because this is biology and there are lots of answers).

First off, people don't necessarily get sick as soon as their exposed to a "bug." Many diseases have an incubation period that can range from hours to days to even years (though the latter is very unusual). What that means is that, if you were exposed to a "bug" (or other pathogen), it could very well take days, weeks, even longer before the disease manifested. That makes tracking down where (and when) you actually got it much more complicated. Long incubation periods (and asymptomatic individuals) can spread disease unknowingly as infectious people pass the bug around without realizing they are "sick." One reason why AIDS is so challenging to control is that people can be infected without realizing it for years - in turn passing it around to others through the use of needles and unprotected sex. So, if you get a bug long after the person you think infected you has recovered, it may be because you were infected much earlier than you thought you were.

This can be particularly tricky when someone is healthy but infected with something, particularly something nasty, as Typhoid Mary was. She had every reason to feel she was healthy and unable to communicate a disease, but managed to infect more than 50 people cooking for them, and was infectious even when she died in quarantine. There are other examples of this kind of thing, but she was somewhat celebrated. And that leads me to another possible answer:

It could also be that the source remained infectious after the symptoms receded. Which meant they were carrying the bug, even if they didn't look like it. With so many over the counter and prescription drugs to treat symptoms, someone could be still quite sick without it appearing so. Though, for some reason, that never seems to happen to me. When I'm sick, I'm miserable no matter what drugs I take. Some diseases manifest in visible ways, like herpes, but can be transmissible even when in "remission." So that's two rather readily available answers to your question.

But wait, there's more. Some diseases can survive for long periods of time on surfaces, like smallpox and tuberculosis and staff bacteria. It's a concern for hospitals who need to ensure surfaces (and hands) are cleaned between patients so that diseases aren't spread between people who never even see each other.

And there's more than one way to become sick: contaminated water or food, exposure to a toxin or radiation, bites of animals (rabies) or insects (malaria, Black plague, lyme disease, etc.), exposure to contaminated fluids or surfaces, parasites . . . any of these can look like a disease you got from a friend without actually being one.

Science, what fun!


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