Cooties: they’re back

Ages ago, we thought we had a cure for cooties in the youth pop­u­la­tion: the cootie shot.

The dis­ease itself could usu­al­ly go untreat­ed with­out ill effect; the real prob­lem was the sec­ondary social stig­ma that came with being a car­ri­er. Once the oth­er kids found out that you had cooties, your social life would be roast­ed, toast­ed… burnt to a crisp. Play dates? Can­celed. Sleep­overs? In your dreams. And, hon­est­ly, who would want to go to your birth­day par­ty?

Yes, it was that bad.

From this cul­ture the cootie shot was born, and fear of cooties could make even the biggest wimp for­get he was afraid of shots — this was a seri­ous prob­lem for which there was no oth­er treat­ment. Even the chil­dren whose par­ents’ ques­tion­able sci­en­tif­ic beliefs kept them far away from vac­ci­na­tions could be found seek­ing treat­ment in the dark alleys of the school­yard, because cooties — not chick­en pox or what­ev­er — was the one ill­ness that could keep you up at night, wor­ry­ing well past your bed­time.

The cootie shot was sup­posed to be a bul­let­proof defense against every known strain. It was sup­posed to offer a sec­ond chance at child­hood.

Get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed worked like this: a typ­i­cal­ly unli­censed prac­ti­tion­er with ques­tion­able med­ical train­ing would admin­is­ter the shot by speak­ing the fol­low­ing incan­ta­tion in a singsong voice, while using their fin­ger to trace the not­ed shapes on your body.

Cir­cle cir­cle, dot dot
Now you’ve got the cootie shot

But that’s just the first stage of the vac­cine cock­tail. Per­haps your fore­arm would be pro­tect­ed, but what about every oth­er part? If you didn’t con­tin­ue the full course of treat­ment, cooties would like­ly gain a foothold and basi­cal­ly ruin your entire life.

Cir­cle cir­cle, square square
Now you’ve got it every­where

At this point, you’d be safe until the shot wore off… which by the way, it would do almost instant­ly. Kids were still get­ting infect­ed left and right, so the great­est med­ical minds on the play­ground came up with what seemed like a sil­ver bul­let for this pub­lic health cri­sis.

Cir­cle cir­cle, knife knife
Now you’ve got it for your life

Only now could you breathe easy — you were final­ly immune. Not even the yuck­i­est girl1  could cause you harm.

At least that’s how it used to work. Once a panacea, a hope for a bet­ter tomor­row, cootie shots have become scarce. This easily‐preventable ail­ment joins measles, polio and whoop­ing cough as again some­thing we must once again wor­ry about.

What hap­pened? Make‐believe med­ical pro­fes­sion­als today — with their hands tied by a well‐known ene­my of healthy and hap­py pop­u­la­tion — can be heard all too often singing a very dif­fer­ent song:

Cir­cle cir­cle, shame shame
Your HMO denied your claim

  1. Every­one knows that females are the main car­ri­ers of cooties, and those bitch­es are every­where.

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