People’s attitudes toward spreading diseases have changed in the last century.
When I was I was a child, if someone in a family came down with something contagious, the health department would post a sign on the front of their house, warning others to keep out. As I recall, the one for scarlet fever was in bright red.
In the first or second decade of the 1900s, an epidemic of polio swept the county, leaving some people crippled and others dead.
When I taught in Brewster, an epidemic of measles swept the school.
No one stayed home because of the malady. Students and faculty alike, marvelously spotted, turned up in the classrooms.
When I protested to one youngster that he should stay home and not expose others to the disease, he replied, “Nuts! Someone gave it to me. Now let the others look out for themselves.”
I had already had it and so was immune.
We once had a staff member who, when one of her children was sent home by the school because of illness, would set the child up at a desk in the newsroom – thereby exposing the whole news staff to whatever it was the child had. When one lived way out on a bus route, getting a child home wasn’t easy.
And there was the time a high school news intern reported for work with such a cold she cold barely speak. The editor was not there that day, and Al Camp, who was standing in at the job, told her to go home. She refused.
“I’m trying to protect my staff,” he exclaimed, and reluctantly she left.
There still is no cure for the common cold, but the cold has become somehow worse in the last few years.
But the placards on houses warning of a certain disease have disappeared with the passage of time. Now there is a shot for measles, and the DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus) shot is given routinely. There also is the previously reported shot for scarlet fever, and I had them for flu and pneumonia the other day.
And so the battle for protection of health goes on. The recent surge of colds – with our coast-to-coast travel, the flu also goes coast to coast – has women sounding like bass-baritones and instantly identifies a victim.
They tell us that when we are most likely to give a cold is when we are just coming down with it, often before we even know we are sick.
It’s a constant battle. But when one considers the numbers of people who have died of these things in the past, now it is time to be grateful for the protections we have.
Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for
The Chronicle. This is the 2,868th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.