BOOKWORM: ‘Ah-Choo!’ is a gem at explaining germs

“Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold” by Jennifer Ackerman, c. 2010, Twelve Books, $22.99, 256 pages.

The morning you woke up feeling like kittens had used your inner throat as a scratching post, you knew you were in trouble.

Within hours, you were sneezing. And sneezing. And sneezing, and your eyes were watery, you couldn’t breathe and you couldn’t wait to crawl to the sofa and watch bad TV. You were miserable and, to top it off, you were snotty – but certainly not intentionally.

Perfect. Why do you always get a cold just when you least need it? Read “Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold” by Jennifer Ackerman, and you might learn a few things to make you breathe a little easier.

So you’re feeling sniffly – or, well, you know you will at some point this coming winter. Ackerman says you should just get used to it. The average person gets about 200 colds in a lifetime. Kids get more, of course, and the elderly suffer fewer colds, but if you’re a regular person, you’ll spend about 24,000 hours and thousands of tissues battling the sniffles over the course of your lifetime.

That’s because no two colds are alike and there are hundreds of different cold viruses with several different categories. The good news is, once your body fights off a specific cold virus, you’ll never get that cold again. The bad news is that you are your own worst enemy. The virus isn’t what makes you miserable in the first place: your body’s reaction in the fight is what causes you to feel so rotten.

Did going out with wet hair cause this malaise? Or did you get it from kissing your sweetie? Nope, says Ackerman. Scientists are pretty sure that colds are spread literally by hand. Shake hands with someone who has a cold, then scratch your nose – voila! You’ve been inoculated. Touch a dirty countertop, then rub your eyes – presto! Instant sick day.

And don’t think those antibacterial soaps you’re using are going to help. They’re antibacterial. A cold is a virus.

So what can you do? Wash your hands or use sanitizer. Forget most over-the-counter cold remedies. Avoid children and smoking. Try not to touch your face. And keep lots of chicken soup around because, as it turns out, Grandma was absolutely right.

Already caught a bug? You’re in good company, according to Ackerman in this delightful book. Colds spike in September and January and “Ah-Choo!” is a great way to spend your time while recovering.

Ackerman has a nose for the facts and she sniffs out plenty of them here, including lots of surprising statistics, disgustingly fun facts and the results of scientific studies. I like the way she dishes the dirt; in fact, just about every page contains something that will make your rheumy eyes crinkle with glee. I also like that Ackerman coughs up some remedy recipes at the end of the book.

Whether you say apchi (Hebrew), apjo (Swedish), hakushon (Japanese) or apchkhi (Russian), you’ll enjoy reading “Ah-Choo!”.

Ask for it by name. And gesundheit.

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