Pathological Life Outside Life

By Scott LaFee

April 8, 2020 6 min read

Inside the human body, bacteria, viruses and other microbial pathogens can live for days, weeks, maybe months — or less. Their existence is usually measured by how quickly our immune system can get rid of them.

Outside the body, the life expectancy of a microbe is equally varied.

Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold can survive on indoor, nonporous surfaces (stainless steel, ceramic tile) for hours and up to more than a week, but they typically survive much shorter periods on porous surfaces, such as fabrics or tissues.

Influenza viruses survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, during which time they are transferable to hands, but they survive only 15 minutes or so on tissues and soft, porous fabrics.

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is still mostly a microbial mystery, but recent studies suggest it is stable (and thus infectious) on metal surfaces for up to four hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The surface survivability of microbes is just one aspect. Microbes that can remain airborne for periods of time pose an alternate threat of exposure. That's why proper etiquette for coughing and sneezing, plus social distancing, is so crucial.

Novel coronavirus is largely believed to be droplet-borne, which means it lingers less in the air. Stay six feet or more away from others and any suspect droplets, spewed by uncovered coughs, sneezes or exhalations, will fall harmlessly to the ground. Or on surfaces that can be effectively cleaned.

Body of Knowledge

According to a 2006 Vanderbilt University study, laughing causes a 10% to 20% increase in energy expenditure and heart rate. Ten to 15 minutes of laughter per day burns up to 40 calories, but the laughter must be genuine and voiced. Courtesy chuckles don't count.

Get Me That, Stat!

New data shows that health insurance claims for diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases went up 76% between 2007 and 2018, spiking in rural areas. Claims related to diagnoses of Mycoplasma genitalium, an STD caused by a bacterium of the same name, increased nearly 200%; claims for chlamydia and gonorrhea increased more than 100%. Among persons over age 60, hepatitis B had the highest increase.

Mark Your Calendar

April is national awareness month for alcohol, irritable bowel syndrome, autism, child abuse, distracted driving, organ donation, occupational therapy, oral and testicular cancers, minority health, sexual assault, women's eye safety and sports eye safety.


22.3: Rise in cases of type 1 diabetes (per 100,000 people) among persons age 20 and younger between 2002 and 2015, up from 19.5 previously.

13.8: Rise in cases of type 2 diabetes in young people in 2013, up from 9 cases per 100,000 in 2003

Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Stories for the Waiting Room

The effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine is on par with the past: It's protective for approximately 45% of people who get the shot. Effectiveness of flu vaccines ranges between 40% and 60%. This year's vaccine has been particularly effective for kids (six months to 17 years) at 55% protection.

Phobia of the Week

Mysophobia: fear of microbial pathogens, also called germophobia, verminophobia and bacillophobia.


"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow. It only robs today of its joy." — Author, professor and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia, also called "Dr. Love" (1924-1998)


Q: What does 20/20 vision actually mean?

A: Simply put, it means you can see at 20 feet what you should be able to see at 20 feet.

The first number indicates distance from a standard eye chart; the second refers to the size of the letter you can read.

For example, 20/30 means that while you're standing the requisite 20 feet from the chart, you read letters most people see standing farther away, at 30 feet. Conversely, if you have 20/15 vision, you can read letters at 20 feet that others need to be standing five feet closer to read.

The 20-foot standard was selected because, at that distance, the eye is relaxed in its normal shape. It is not attempting to focus incoming light from the object on the retina at the back of the eye. To see objects closer or farther than 20 feet, the eye lens must bend light.

Fact: Only 35% of all adults enjoy 20/20 vision without glasses, contact lenses or corrective surgery.

Curtain Calls

On Feb. 12, 1995, Philip Taylor Kramer, bass guitarist for the 1970s rock band Iron Butterfly, made a series of phone calls and then mysteriously disappeared. Four years later, his van and skeleton were found at the bottom of a Malibu, California, canyon. Authorities concluded he drove off the canyon cliff, a probable suicide.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Syaibatulhamdi at Pixabay

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