Bacteria Bully

By Annie Lane

February 15, 2020 4 min read

Dear Annie: When my brother-in-law is sick, he loves to cough: He says he wants to spread his germs around. Recently, we went out to eat with him, and he coughed into his hands and not into his elbow. He kept coughing throughout the meal. No one wants his sickness. I find it difficult to be around him.

My brother-in-law is also a bully, and I believe this is part of his love of bullying — spreading illness to others.

Please tell people to stay home when they are sick, cough into their elbows and see a pulmonary specialist if their cough lasts more than a month. — Sick of the Chronic Cougher

Dear Sick: Your brother-in-law is sick in more ways than one. Shame on him. I should hope this is common sense by now, but in case anyone needs to hear it: Covering one's mouth when coughing or sneezing isn't just polite; it's a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of germs. It is best to keep tissues handy so that you can cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and promptly dispose of the used tissue. Then thoroughly wash your hands with soap and clean running water. If clean running water is unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Dear Annie: I am writing for a friend who is at her wit's end. More than 40 years after completing his education, her husband is being sued for a student loan that he says was paid off 30-plus years ago. They have never had any letters or phone calls saying he still owed student loans in all these years. He has lived in the same house for over 25 years. He worked for state government for a number of years and then worked for county government. No one contacted him about this student loan. After so long, my friend is unable to locate any paperwork about the loans to prove that they were paid off all those years ago. The bank that made the loan has changed hands several times, and they don't have records going back that far.

My friends are in their retirement years, and they are having to pay back thousands of dollars because of this. They are saying that he also owes interest. The original loan was only for $3,000. So far, they have paid $8,000, with no end in sight. The only reason they started paying it back is because they were told they would be sued if they didn't.

They have talked to senators and representatives and even hired a lawyer, but what it amounts to is they have no proof they paid it. I believe it is some kind of computer glitch, but no one is able to defend them against the Department of Education.

I just wonder if what happened to them is happening to other people all across the country. Is there anywhere you can refer these people to go for help? — Sickened by Friend's Situation

Dear Sickened: I feel extremely frustrated just reading about your friends' situation. I can't imagine living it.

Too many things seem not to add up here: For instance, wouldn't this have been negatively impacting his credit score all these years? Something is definitely awry.

I wish I could offer actionable advice, but I'm afraid that the best I can do is print your letter and let you know if I hear from anyone who has experienced this firsthand and knows a course of action.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]

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