Cooties v. Coronavirus

I recently heard someone compare being infected with the coronavirus to having cooties, which got me thinking…

Do you remember “cooties” from your childhood?

None of us children could define — much less see — cooties. However, we understood that other children could be “infected” with cooties if they got too close to someone with cooties. And we never could explain the origin of cooties, other than through a simple declaration: “you have cooties.”

The best strategy to avoid catching cooties was to identify the with person infected with cooties and stay away.

Cooties must be among the least hazardous and treacherous of childhood cruelties because cooties are democratic, highly infectious, and because children are easily distracted.

Cooties is about 100 years old. According to Jane C. Hu in a 2019 article in Smithsonian Magazine, “[t]he word first appeared during World War I as soldiers’ slang for the painful body lice that infested the trenches. It went mainstream in 1919 when a Chicago company incorporated the pest into the Cootie Game, in which a player maneuvered colored “’cootie’ capsules across a painted battlefield into a cage. The cooties concept has been evolving ever since.”

Of course, there are significant differences between cooties of our childhoods and the coronavirus. All the children infected with cooties sloughed off the disease at the end of recess. Those infected with the coronavirus may appear to be healthy, but they can also develop mild flu-like symptoms, be confined to bed for several days, go the hospital, be hooked up to ventilators, develop maladies that will continue to wreak havoc on their systems, or die.

So, what do cooties and the coronavirus have in common? Both are democratic and highly infectious. Both those infected and those not infected can be easily distracted.

Perhaps the most important thing in common between cooties and the coronavirus is the most effective strategy to avoid infection: isolate those infected and stay away.

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