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My Son Invited His Sick Coughing Friend Over,
How Should I Clean Up after His Visit?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 24 in the May 3-4, 2003 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Doctor's Corner.
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan Portrait

If you live and travel around Peel region (Ontario, Canada) then you need to come to grips with what microbes and diseases exist in our environment. A small smattering of the daily hit list includes Streptococcal infections, Tuberculosis, Measles, Rhinoviruses (colds), Hepatitis, Chicken pox, Influenza, Meningitis, Malaria, HIV, Amebiasis, West Nile Disease, Legionellosis, Rabies, Herpes, Giardiasis, Lyme Disease, Norwalk and Rota-Virus (gastro), Tetanus, Pneumococcal Pneumonia, Chlamydia, HiB, Flesh-eating Disease and Invasive E. Coli.

These are the things I worry about everyday. What about things that are highly rare and rarely seen, if at all, in Peel? That list is much more dramatic and seems to preoccupy many minds. It includes Anthrax, Smallpox, SARS, Hantavirus, Legionnaires Disease, Cholera, Plague, Ebola, Poliomyelitis, Q Fever, Dengue Fever, Lassa Fever and Typhoid.

Which one of the aforementioned diseases causes fever, muscle aches and pneumonia, and has caused more sickness and death in Peel during the last eight weeks than most others combined? If you guessed INFLUENZA, go to the head of the class. My disease expert colleague, Dr. Krystyna Ostrowska tells me that Tuberculosis, particularly the drug resistant kind, is the other major respiratory disease problem. At the SARS conference held this week, I was happy to hear that there is no current SARS activity in Peel.

Bleach and soap are still a microbe's worst nightmare. Keeping surfaces clean with these agents particularly in the kitchen is very effective. Wash every hand that is willing to be washed. The SARS terror that has overtaken us needs perspective. Calling a province-wide Code Orange mandates certain policies as a means of containing spread. As with all things, rapid response generates rampant fears. The latest data suggests that over 95 percent of SARS patients survive their encounter and that climbs to 99 percent if you are young and healthy. This season's Influenza cases number in the thousands, and resultant deaths in the hundreds. There are some hard lessons being learned by all involved. The bare essence of our social fabric is evolving before us with the dawning of masks. Once comforting gestures of handshaking, hugging and kissing are suddenly scarce, making us all feel a little more distant. I have been trying to get patients to regularly wash their hands for eons, and suddenly, new rituals of group cleanliness are emerging everywhere. Masking when one is repeatedly coughing is probably a good idea. Minimizing contact with other humans in the presence of a fever might become a common courtesy. I predict that one benefit of SARS zealousness will be to reduce the spread of the other diseases. My vigilance to disease has not changed since the days of my mother's favourite repetitive phrase, "cover your mouth dear" and neither should yours!

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