What is “Highly Contagious?”
Have you heard lately that measles are “highly contagious?” Can you define highly contagious? Over and over I see articles and headlines that shout “highly contagious,” and then don’t define it. Do they tell us in a way that gives us something to do about it?
When it comes to actually finding steps to take or discovering what “highly contagious” means, I have concluded it means, “OMG you better read this article.” And watch the news at 11—if you still have news at 11.
After having my own cold season recently I decided to research and see just what “highly contagious” means. Armed with that knowledge, I thought perhaps I’d know how to act differently in my everyday life to avoid being in contact with “contagious.” What I discovered was more than just about the measles, but colds and the flu as well.
Rule number one appeared to be cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and wash your hands often.
With the measles also comes the vaccination decision—a emotional issue for many people today. I know others are concerned that we are inviting back the Middle Ages when people, often children, die from preventable, contagious diseases.
I know people who refuse to get vaccinated. There is a community in San Diego that feels very strongly about this, and this isn’t about that. Not entirely.
The measles, of course, infects the groups and communities that don’t believe in vaccinations the hardest. If you or your friends have not been exposed or have children or even have friends with children who have not been vaccinated, it’s good to know what contagious means because people can die. One in 20 children who get infected develop pneumonia.
Unfortunately, the idea that you don’t need to concern yourself about the measles because you had them as a child isn’t exactly true either.
Whether you consider vaccinations the Devil’s Brew or Miracle Cures or not, isn’t there more information out there that could help all us cope with the bugs and contagion going around? That was my question.
What I found is measles are highly contagious because measles microbes get into the trachea, attach to elements of our immune system and then get carried throughout the body. So it gets into us easier than other diseases might.
That means the average number of people who will catch the disease from one infected person is very high. With the mumps, for instance, the average number of people who will catch the disease from one infected person is between 4-7. For the flu, it’s between 1 and 4. For the measles, it’s between 12-18. (See the graph)
Power of Measles
Because of the way it enters the body and how it attaches to us, when someone who is contagious sneezes or coughs in a room of ten people, nine people can contract it unless they are protected.
That’s the airborne part of it, but it can also find places to land and stay alive longer. For how long is not universally agreed upon. Some state 45 minutes in the air and another source said 2-3 hours.
It’s also deceptively contagious because you can have it for 4-5 days before showing any symptoms and spread it to others during that time and for another five days after showing symptoms.
According to the CDC, about 3% of those who are fully vaccinated people can still get the measles and carry and transmit the virus, but it is generally a milder illness and is less likely to spread to others.
Those Other Bugs
Another disturbing part is that most of the bugs that effect us will stay alive longer then we may think—or I thought—and sometimes they can be a challenge to get rid of.
Thankfully there are also precautions to take and more to know about what to watch out for than I realized. It applies also to the many of us who are challenged by the cold and flu season. Especially since these bugs seems to have declared open season on us and linger longer.
What I couldn’t find is a list comparing different diseases and the best way to protect ourselves or clean our household of each. Perhaps some of what I found, however, will prove useful to you too.
Good to Remember
Forget the idea that oxygen will quickly kill all infectious microbes that are coughed of sneezed in the air. You don’t even have to be present when someone sneezes to be infected.
Most sources stated flu viruses will generally last 24 hours, but a couple said 72 hours. Cold viruses can survive on indoor surfaces for about 7 days.
The surface makes a big difference. Germs will not last more than a day on hard non-porous surfaces like doorknobs, but will last longer on porous surfaces. Examples of porous surfaces are paper, untreated wood, cardboard, sponges and fabric.
Germs can live on clothes for one or two days. You can get germs on your clothes if you nurse someone with an illness.
Detergents will not kill germs without bleach and very hot water.
To kill bacteria and pathogens it needs to boil—212 degrees F. Most dish and clothes washing is done at temperatures lower than 120 degrees. Washing your clothes in warm or cold water won’t kill germs.
If you have a cold, it can survive in bed linens and survive a wash. Bedding can trap germs—bacteria and viruses—that cause the flu and colds.
Over and over, taking care of ourselves—our immune system—is critical.
And yes, after that, to stop the spread of infections, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Then wash you hands after you do. Often.
Plus—regularly disinfect areas that people touch a lot with Lysol or similar cleansers.
I know that’s almost where I started, i.e., cover you mouth-wash your hands, but knowing how long we are vulnerable and some ways to get rid what infects us did change some of my routines. If we don’t take that extra step, colds and the flu come back or linger. As much as they occur and as wide-spread as they are, why aren’t they considered highly contagious?
If you have other tips to add, send us a message.