A person is hiding under a lampshade pretending to be a lamp. To the left two germs are entering the house and hanging up their coats.

Caregiver Perspectiver: Sharing Germs

I've been struggling since December 26 with being both the caregiver and needing care myself. I don't usually get sick because I'm cautious regarding exposure to contagious situations. For example, I screen those who come to our home both for their symptoms and their possible exposure to others, and I do most of our shopping online. However, on Christmas Day, I acquired a GI bug from out of nowhere.

Catching a crippling GI bug

On the morning of December 26, about half of our guests reported developing the same crippling diarrhea and vomiting illness I enjoyed that lasted 6-8 hours. Though the worst of the symptoms lasted less than twenty-four hours, the recovery took days. None of the guests remember encountering anyone who had been ill or was with someone who had been sick. I concluded from my investigation that one of the guests contacted it from being in a public place and brought it into the group that day unknowingly. Try as I might, I can’t prevent everything.

Hopeful for a break when my caregiver arrived

I lost five pounds in two days with that illness. I anxiously looked forward to our caregiver's arrival on Monday to help me out. However, when she arrived at work, she approached me first to ask if she should stay. She informed me she had been coughing all weekend, had seen a doctor, had bronchitis and was on antibiotics. The doctor said she would not be contagious and could work provided there was no fever. Hmmm, really?

True or False? Persons coughing and sneezing cannot spread their germs to others if they do not have an elevated temperature.


Having a fever has nothing to do with whether a disease is contagious. An elevated body temperature (i.e., fever) serves as a warning that you have an infection developing in your body. The body was invaded by a microorganism using either direct contact, dropping in from the air, or floating by on body fluids to initiate the infection.

Not all infections are contagious

Some infections remain localized and never move beyond their original location. However, if the disease carries a risk for spreading, then it can pass from person to person by either direct or indirect contact. Spreading the germ is easy after that because the encounter may be brief, prolonged, planned, or accidental.

How infections affect someone with MS

A healthy, well-functioning immune system attacks the alien microorganisms and may be able to render them harmless. If the organism can overpower the immune system, an infection develops. In the case of someone with multiple sclerosis, the immune system recognizes that it is under attack and needs to defend against an alien invader. Still, instead of attacking the intruder, it attacks itself. The inflammatory response attacks the myelin of the nerve cell and creates further multiple sclerosis impact.

Few people understand what "contagious" means

What became apparent to me this past week, however, is how few people understand how diseases spread. What bothered me most was that a few of these individuals worked for health service organizations. If healthcare groups don't understand, then how can patients and families be expected to keep viruses and bacterial infections from spreading?

Here are some principles to keep in mind

  1. When germs pass from one person to another, the infection is contagious. The presence of a fever is not necessary.
  2. You are often contagious for twenty-four hours before you are aware that you are sick. You might feel “off” but may not have significant symptoms yet.
  3. You remain contagious if you produce any discolored or foul-smelling discharge or drainage (i.e., something transmitted to someone else).
  4. Antibiotics only keep you from being contagious if you have taken them as ordered for greater than twenty-four hours, and the specimen culture shows the medicine effectively killed the microorganism, making you sick. Otherwise, the antibiotic was ineffective.

Germs spread quickly

Viruses, bacteria, and microbes are too small to see. Therefore, detecting exposure is very difficult. Here are some everyday situations from work and school showing how easy it is to pick up a new bug.

  • You use your clean hands to turn off the water faucet, re-contaminating them. Instead, turn water faucets off with paper towels or the edge of your clothing.
  • Every door you open exposes you to the germs left by the last set of hands touching that door. Either wear gloves, carry something to use to cover the door handle or clean your hands with hand sanitizer after opening doors to reduce your exposure risk.
  • You witness someone fall and kindly help them up. After helping the fallen victim get up, you realize later that the blood from their scrapped knee got on your skin. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.  If your skin is intact, there is no risk, but if the blood entered an open wound on your skin, then contact your doctor for further instructions.
  • Avoid ordering the buffet or eating from the salad bar. Open food displays and salad bars contain accumulated germs of everyone who has sneezed, coughed, or stuck their fingers into dishes provided.
  • When riding in an elevator, going into a group setting, or going anywhere else with a large group, stay in the back. Coughing and sneezing projectiles travel forward. If you are in the rear of the crowd, you reduce your exposure.

To sum it up

You are contagious if you can pass germs from one person to another and have active symptoms. Examples of active symptoms include a productive cough (bringing up yucky colored phlegm), sneezing, running a fever, or have unexplained diarrhea or vomiting.

If you are sick, you may be contagious.

Stay home

  • If you must go out, wear a mask and gloves
  • Warn visitors of possible exposure risks before arrival.

If you are not ill, take precautions in public. Wash your hands thoroughly and use hand sanitizer.

Help stop the spread of germs.

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