Think epic to prevent an epidemic

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Image: Indraneel Brahme

The following is a guest post by Shiv Sudhakar, M.D.

Bugs versus drugs. Really germs versus drugs. That’s my life. I’m an infectious diseases specialist and I feel the world is really just divided into these two perennial enemies. The yin and yang of being a germ and trying to destroy them. We humans have it easy. We have soap. Bug spray. Hand sanitizer. Penicillin. But have you ever thought what’s it like to be a germ? The little guy…?

I know there’s a lot of people frightened right now about the coronavirus and it’s scary — believe me I get it. But to inject some levity in the situation, being a germ is no fun. They mount insurmountable odds and bring 250-pound men crying to their knees. I’m always fascinated how big burly men become almost like putty in the virus’ hands. It almost seems the bigger they are, the more likely they revert to being a baby when they get sick.

We humans never see them coming. Literally. I imagine the germs huddle somewhere at the start of the flu season, rejoicing, Game-of-Thrones style, that Winter is coming. They all dream of going viral, but only a select few actually do. They concoct brilliant flu and other viral strains designed to make us sick. They laugh at us as we try to destroy them, knowing that still in 2020, we have no cure for the flu. Kids can learn a lot from germs. No matter how little you are, you can do big things. You must think epic to cause an epidemic. And if you’re really lucky cause . . . a pandemic. The Oscars, if you will, for germs.

It’s getting to the point where chaos is happening in the supermarkets across the country. As an infectious disease specialist knowing that coronavirus really only causes loose stool is a small minority of patients, I find it almost funny that people are stock-piling toilet paper. My mother, aka Dr. Mom, always taught me to have a roll of toilet paper at my disposal at any time. Just one. Buying hoards of it is a little bit overkill. What people should be fighting over is sinus rinse, Vicks Vapor rub, and Sudafed. I always tell my patients tussin has more magic in it than Hogwarts. And don’t get me started on DayQuil.

I have to admit it — I admire the germ. Probably that’s why I’m an infectious disease specialist. I admire their tenacity. Their ability to adapt to change. Their aspirations to do big things. Granted it’s not good things, but we humans can learn a lot from their infectious disease playbook. They probably laughed at Californians when the measles outbreak started in Disneyland. What better place to start an outbreak than the happiest place on earth?

I always thought they must go to school to be so good at being so bad. GQ is what I think it’s called — Germ Quest institute where they learn the art of infecting. They dream on going to the NBA–the National Bug Association. We humans see cruise ships. They see a petri dish and an opportunity. I mean how many norovirus outbreaks do we have to have before we get it that cruises are nothing more than an infection waiting to happen?

So next time you’re stuck in bed with a cold thinking the world is about to end and yelling to your spouse to get you some Campbell soup, respect the germ as it beats all the odds to cause your infection. Respect it like an opponent respects Le Bron James or the amazing Zion Williamson doing his 270 degree one-handed dunk on them.

They are winning in a big way this year. Markets crashed. Sporting events are gone. But we humans are resilient too. Republican, Democrat, Independent, or AOC, we will come to together to beat the pesky germs. We are bigger than them (yes, size does matter). We are smarter than them. We have more Purell than them. So we all will get through this as we learn to respect our opponent.

Shiv Sudhakar, M.D. is an infectious diseases specialist in California. He has an MFA in screenwriting, serves as a medical consultant on television shows, and loves to write animation and stories for children on television and film. Dr. Sudhakar attended Duke University – also known as the City of Medicine, where he was inspired to become a doctor. He went to medical school in Philadelphia, graduated in 2006  and completed his internal medicine residency and fellowship in California.  He teaches at Northstate Medical school where he tries to inspire students to be interested in germs. 

Image credit: Indraneel Brahme is an M.D. candidate and rising third year student at California Northstate University in Elk Grove, California, where he is student body president.

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