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What We Can Learn From Hillary Clinton's Pneumonia

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CLINTON PNEUMONIA
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For most of this year, one infectious disease -- Zika -- has dominated the headlines. But last week, the virus took a back seat to a far more common ailment familiar to many Canadians: Pneumonia. This infection of the lungs has become the talk of the town. But this occurrence isn't the result of an outbreak or epidemic. It's all due to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

By now most people have heard she suffered from pneumonia. This generic illness can be caused by a number of factors including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The severity of the disease also varies widely with some able to keep on with their lives while others find themselves in a life or death situation. Making pneumonia even more troublesome is the potential for antibiotic resistance and the inability to properly treat the illness.

However, most concerns were put to rest when her physician released a letter describing the infection and other issues regarding Mrs. Clinton's health. In essence, she had suffered from one illness and then unfortunately caught a secondary form of pneumonia. She wasn't contagious and she responded well to antibiotic treatment. By Thursday, she was back on the campaign trail as if nothing had happened.

Yet, the camera doesn't lie and video footage of the former Secretary of State reveals she was struggling with sickness. This has led to a number of theories regarding her overall health. Even with the information provided, the visual footage of her coughs, gasps, and near-fainting spells proved to be more than enough to keep the conversation going long after it should have been resolved.

For any public health official, this is a frustrating example of what happens when people don't heed the advice of a doctor. When the presidential candidate was first diagnosed, she should have rested, stayed hydrated, and followed her doctor's advice in terms of medication. It was standard protocol. But she didn't heed the advice. Instead, she kept on with her campaign thinking it was no big deal. She felt she could push through the pneumonia. She learned the consequences the hard way.

While the story of Mrs. Clinton's plight makes for great conversation both in the media and in the public, the reality is that this scenario plays out far more often than we think. Each and every day, people are pushing through their illness in the hopes of getting to school, work, or event. It's known as presenteeism and it continues to be a significant source of annoyance for public health officials.

From a purely productive perspective, presenteeism should be regarded as a good trait to have. Forsaking oneself for the greater good always appears to be admirable. Yet, from an infectious disease perspective, this characteristic is caustic for any common area.

First off, the sick individual is at greater risk for symptoms such as dehydration, dizziness, and overall malaise. But more importantly, the potential for spread of the illness to others in the area is quite high. It would take little effort to send an entire group into a mini-outbreak of disease. It happens so often it is even colloquially referred to as, "going around."

Yet, this situation is entirely preventable. All one has to do is accept the illness and defer to the immune system in order to improve. It may take a day or two and possibly a visit to the doctor but in the grand realm of health, it's the best path to pursue.

As to why someone may choose to stay home rather than push on, the perfect example may come not from Mrs. Clinton, but her staff. Based on the information provided by the campaign during interviews, she may not have caught the infection from the trail but instead from her own office. There were several cases of respiratory illness in and around her campaign headquarters.

While there is no list of names, based on televised live interviews with the campaign, at least one of the affected was a higher up and would have most likely interacted with Clinton. If that person had inadvertently coughed within six feet of her, the agent may have spread to her. As she was already dealing with another infection, she would have been left vulnerable to attack.

Granted, these deductions are indeed speculative. Yet the circumstantial evidence does point to a rather unfortunate set of circumstances. An official within the campaign would have contracted the illness several weeks ago. As the illness set in, the individual performed presenteeism and went to work as per usual. There, the illness spread to others. Eventually, the pathogen would have found its way into Mrs. Clinton.

Of course, the situation for Mrs. Clinton's team is unique. She is running to be President and she need to demonstrate those leadership qualities. However, in retrospect, she may have been far better off taking those few days. Her example would have been perfect for every person wishing to exemplify presenteeism. Instead of trying to be a hero at work, the best thing you can do is simply to stay home.

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