Incubational. Prodromal. Acute. These are the first three stages of infection, and we’ve considered them one-by-one.
By way of a quick review: the incubational phase is when the bug moves in, checking out the neighborhood and surrounding countryside. The prodromal phase, meanwhile, is when that visitor turns out to have been an opportunistic squatter who now invites his buddies to help him invade this new territory. And, the acute phase is when that invading force has taken occupancy.
Now, all that remains is to have a look at infection’s fourth and final phase: convalescence.
What is Convalescence?
Most of us have heard of convalescent hospitals. Some of us may have visited one or even been a patient in one. Often, they take the form of rehabilitation centers designed for recovery following accident or prolonged illness.
For the purposes of this present discussion, however, convalescence is the period of gradual recovery from illness. This is also known as “return to baseline.” The pathogenic “occupation” has begun weakening. However, the operative word here is “begun.” So, even though the patient is beginning to feel better, he or she still poses the risk of transmitting the infection to others.
Think back to your childhood. You wake up one morning feeling achy and weak. You go to school anyway, but, by lunch, you are burning with fever, so the school nurse has someone bring you home. You spend the next few miserable days in bed, eating very little but taking care to stay hydrated (following the old adage “starve a fever, feed a cold”). Finally, the day arrives when you just “feel better.” The fever has broken, and the aches are gone. You are still weak, though, and you are told to stay home, lest you relapse and/or infect others.
Wrapping It Up
So, what’s the take-home advice today?
Number one: if you’ve been sick, take the time to get well. Chances are, you didn’t fall ill from one moment to the next. Neither will you fully heal at that speed.
Number two (and, perhaps, more importantly): if you’re well, get the rest you need in order not to get sick! This seems like common sense, but, you know what they say about that: it can be shockingly uncommon. Anyway, think about it: two people catch the same bug, but only one of them develops an infection. Why? Because that lucky bug found a host whose immune system wasn’t running at full capacity. Or, to change the metaphor, negligence allowed for a crack in the outer defensive wall. And that crack was all it took for the pathogen to enter and begin its work.
With that, we finish this discussion of the four stages of infection. Hopefully, it has shed some light on what can be a mysterious subject. Now, let’s all do our best to keep healthy, and to keep well!
All the best,
Dr. Blanche Grube