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Talking About Con Crud

I’ve been quiet here in part because Carol and I bought new smartphones on Saturday afternoon: a pair of Droid X2 units with which we are (so far) completely delighted. That said, I’ve discovered that research into the Dalvik VM and bytecode set does not help you learn how to move icons onto your Android desktop. Smartphones don’t come with manuals in the box anymore. Preston Gralla will sell me one on October 5. Until then, my learning process will consist of mildly Web-guided poking around.

More on this later. In the meantime, Michael Covington recently reminded me of a phenomenon I had not thought about in some years: con crud. Basically, people who go to SFF or media/gamer cons often come home with a nasty cold that sometimes borders on flu. Con celebrities have taken to refusing handshakes and hugs for fear of catching it (PvP guru Scott Kurtz is one) but nobody seems to agree on what-all causes it nor how to avoid it.

I’ve gotten con crud more than once. Interestingly, it wasn’t always at SFF cons. I came down with a nasty case after the 1983 (I think) Trenton Computer Festival. And the mother of all con crud episodes for me was a computer trade show in 1992, at which I came down with a bad case of bacterial pneumonia after three days in the PC Techniques show booth. It took some heavy-duty antibiotics and a week flat on my ass in bed to become functional again.

While there’s little agreement online as to causes, there are statistical bumps in the discussion on the following points:

  • Not enough sleep. Staying up all night is a form of recreation in itself.
  • Physical contact with other people. Hugs, not drugs!
  • Bad food. People eat sugar and fat at cons. (Never at home, right?)
  • Poor personal hygiene. We’re having too much fun to shower!

Sleep is certainly an issue. When I don’t sleep enough, I get sick. I have noticed that (within my own circles) morning people are generally healthier than night people, and among those I know well enough to ask, night people get way less sleep than morning people. There are of course causality questions here, but I think I can say confidently that the con crowd is dominated by night people.

The notion that fat and sugar suppress your immune system, and the flipside that fruits and veggies and whole grains strengthen it, is unproven and probably nonsense. (If it were true I’m sure I’d be long dead.) Skipping meals entirely may be more of an issue here. Hugs and handshakes may put some loose viruses on your skin, but breathing other people’s air is probably a more potent vector, and anybody who works in a big company cube farm is breathing other people’s viruses at con-scale all day, every day. Poor personal hygiene is an issue, though it may be as simple as not washing your hands as much as you do in mundane life.

I do have a suggested cause that I have not yet seen online: talking too much. Some people talk for a living. Most people work and study largely in silence. Then they go to a con and spend three days and three nights talking almost continuously. By the end of Day 2 of booth duty at early Coriolis show booths I generally felt scratchy in the throat, and when the whole thing was done and over I could barely talk at all. Basically, when you shred your vocal cords all weekend, you provide a stressed environment in your throat that’s easy prey for microorganisms. Not sleeping may then be enough to push you over the edge into serious infection.

If this is true, there’s no easy way around it. Cons are social gatherings, after all, and the real draw are not the exhibits or conference sessions but all the interesting people. My prescription will get some people angry but I think it will work: Talk all you want, but be in bed by midnight and sleep until 9:30. Try it. Let me know if it works.


  1. One could also talk to oneself incessantly to strengthen one’s vocal folds. 🙂


  2. KD says:

    A possibility to consider:
    – The levels of vitamin D that conventional medicine says are adequate have been questioned in the last decade or so.
    – Recent research has connected vitamin D with quite a few ills, including reduced immunity.
    – Nearly everyone outside the tropics is deficient in vitamin D, if those questioning the conventional view are correct.

    If you assume that when a large conference occurs, people are exposed to viruses that they haven’t encountered before, or at least not recently, then reduced immune function due to low vitamin D levels naturally leads to high rates of con crud.

    I admit the number of assumptions, and it might not be true, but I think worth considering. Getting your blood checked for vitamin D level is, unfortunately, not simple because there are several tests, and the correct one can be done using two or three methods that yield different results on the same sample. Add that to the disagreement between the conventionally agreed proper level (much too low according to the critics), and it is a real mess.

    If you want to check your vitamin D level, without explaining all the details, the correct test is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Don’t get the 1,25(OH)D test. Aim for around 75 or 80 for the result, which is way above recommended, but quite safe. That will be higher than necessary if you get the test that reads low, but not too high to cause any problem. (There is some disagreement among the critics about the exact proper target level, but I think they would all agree that that level is safe and probably effective.)

    To research the vitamin D situation yourself, there is lots of discussion around on the web. Use the above information to locate the ones saying what I am and see how well they convince you.

    1. I just had my bloodwork done last month, and I’ll have to dig up the report from the file cabinet and see which test I got. I take 3000 units of D3 every morning (well, I did until I ran out two days ago; must get more) and I don’t recall that my own level was low. I recognize the importance of D3. Between the D3 pills, an egg (sometimes two) a day, and lots of milk, I suspect I’m getting enough. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t, though.

  3. Erbo says:

    Remember the 6-2-1 Rule at cons…each day, 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower. Minimum.

    Also, “Behold the Power of Orange Juice”…warm & humid convention areas + cool & dry hotel rooms + contact with various people/strangers for the duration + fatigue = a recipe for Con Plague! Vitamin C is your friend.

    (These tips found here, and quite possibly elsewhere. See also Foamy the Squirrel’s rant on the rules.)

  4. Tom Dison says:

    I think the most important risk is the mingling with lots of people from different environments. Each local area has its own supply of “normal flora”, to which we all develop an immunity. When we meet people from other areas, we are “cross-pollinating” each other. I used to be a Respiratory Therapist (‘Puter Programmer now), and every time I changed jobs, I would get sick. I had to get used to the new ICU bugs, even when the new hospital is just across town. Nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections are a real problem. I guess we now have NosoCONial infections!

  5. […] of the first few days in-country recovering from Airplane Crud (a phenomenon not entirely unlike Con Crud); I’m glad I didn’t have to negotiate room service in Polish with my brain operating at […]

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