, Salem, MA

December 23, 2013

Letter: Good health for the holidays

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

It should be clear to anyone paying attention while out in public that some sort of an upper respiratory infection is running its course around the region. Right now! We in the public health community have a term for this type of an outbreak: endemic. An endemic disease is an infliction that is regularly expected and has the potential to affect the population within a certain region or environment. Hence: the common cold!

As a public health official, I take my responsibility for managing the spread of communicable diseases very seriously. I am acutely aware of the clinical and legal protocols that have been tested by time and remain firmly in place after so many years. Terms like quarantine, isolate and, perhaps most importantly, “diseases deemed dangerous to the public” are the foundation of my stock-in-trade.

It should also be quickly noted that abuse of the authority behind this responsibility is nothing short of a crime against a person’s rights. For example, to order a quarantine or isolate an individual by decree without due cause is very wrong. With those facts in place, let me shift to a practical application of infection control.

When deciding whether to go to work or the gym, get out and do some last-minute shopping at the mall, or simply partake in festivities of the season, be aware of the common approaches to staving off the spread of illness. I refer, of course, to the practice of cough etiquette, frequent handwashing, using hand-sanitizing lotion; I’m even witnessing the rise of disposable surgical masks being dispensed at certain public venues. But, unless you are an imminent threat to public health — and that is a determination made by a physician or a public health officer — what you do remains a personal choice. Your choice should be based on common courtesy when considering an answer to the simple question made culturally popular back in the 1980s by, of all people, a group of British punk rockers: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy & Healthy New Year to all!

Peter M. Mirandi

Public health director