Here's a straight up brag: I don't get sick often. I am almost nostalgic for the days of being cuddled up in bed, doted on by my mom who would make me smoothies and tuck in my blankets. Or, I was nostalgic such days until I got very sick recently as an adult and spent the day trying not to puke in bed. Spoiler alert: being sick is zero percent fun and gets in the way of everything. If you're in a relationship, it's important to consider how to not get your partner sick so that your illness does not f*ck up their whole week as well.
The stages of getting sick are not unlike the stages of air travel. Upon arrival at the airport, you notice some delays at security, not unlike the initial rumbles of your stomach that suggest that something in your immune system has gone awry. You forge on, because, after all, this could just be a small setback. But due to factors out of your control, your flight can get delayed — or, you fall incredibly ill — and you are stuck in the airport (bed) for hours (days).
Like navigating airports, navigating illness is unpredictable and awful and you just want someone to hug you at the end of it. However, as tempting as it is to have a partner during your flight delay to keep you company, it's not nice to screw your partner's world up as well. Now first, let me thank you for letting me have that enormous analogy. Then, let me tell you that I spoke to medical professionals Dr. Celine Thum and Dr. Briant Burke about how to avoid getting your partner sick when you've caught what feels like the plague. Here's what they had to say:
Not all "sick days" are created equal. While food poisoning might make you feel like you are moments from death, it is not contagious, so let your partner dote on you (if you're OK with them seeing you in that state). Do you have a cold? A flu? A stomach bug? Different illnesses are transmitted in different ways.
"Cold viruses are transmitted through respiratory droplets," explains Dr. Thum. "This means that a healthy individual can contract a virus by inhaling viral particles from droplets when a sick individual coughs or sneezes." So basically, a cold has a wide spread, so maybe spend a few days sleeping apart in order to keep your partner from catching the same cold.
"For a GI or respiratory virus it’s best to sleep separately, [and] not kiss," Dr. Burke adds. Major bummer, but you wouldn't want to be passing germs back and forth, you know? Dr. Burke also adds, "One of the major reasons that some viruses spread so quickly and easily is that we don’t get symptoms until several days after we are infected." He recommends that couples agree to let each other know at the earliest signs of any symptoms of sickness.
Of course your doting partner might be worried about you, and they might want to give you kisses, but both doctors agreed that with a common cold or respiratory infection, it's important to wait until all symptoms of illness are gone before in for going mouth-to-mouth. "Because transmission is via respiratory droplets, avoid kissing your partner while they are actively having symptoms," explains Dr. Tham.
And what about having sex? Dr. Burke says it's best not to have sex until the infected partner is feeling better. "The ill partner is not likely to want sex until feeling better anyway," he adds. Fair point. Dr. Thum explains, "Theoretically, colds are not spread through sexual contact, but being in close proximity to an individual puts you at increased risk for coming into contact with a virus." So why not play it safe? I'd go out on a limb and say that sex is always a good activity to apply the motto "safety first" to.
You might have a partner who wants to bring you Gatorade and Advil, then watch the new season of Black Mirror with you, and you don't need to push them away entirely. Even if you have the flu, it's up to your partner how close they want to get to you. If you live together, your partner may want to sleep in their own bed with you. A little cuddling might even be OK.
"If an individual is sneezing and coughing, have them face away during a cuddle session," says Dr. Thum. "Being around someone that is sick will increase your chances of catching a cold, but frequent hand washing and sanitizing will help decrease the risk." There you have it: there's a reason every elementary school teacher drilled the importance of hand washing into all of us as young humans.
Feeling terrible is terrible, and I give you props for reading this article while you are down in the doldrums. It shows a great deal of care for your partner. Hold off on kissing, and if your partner has a really important work trip coming up, maybe relegate them to sleeping on the couch if you're really ill. In the mean time, rest up and drink those fluids. Get well soon!
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