Friday, October 24, 2014

How do you judge the vectors of disease?

Do you hate or blame the person who has a cold and you end up catching it?  What do you do when you contract communicable disease from someone, do you seek revenge?  How do you feel about exotic parasites or viruses or bacterial and fungal infections?   Here’s an ethical question:
You are in the largest and fanciest hotel in a large city and you (as an observant and knowledgeable biologist), find and capture a live bed bug in your room.  You knew immediately what you had captured, but you took a minute to Google it and were now 99.99% sure…  What do you do?  What do you expect the hotel staff to do?
I recently found myself in this position.  I dropped the little bugger into a vial of 70% isopropyl alcohol (something that we biologists always carry), and took it down to the concierge (someone of whom I had no idea of the extent of his authoritative powers).  I suggested that he or his superior might want to speak with me confidentially (my thoughts were to not set off a panic among the other guests if in the crowded lobby they overheard us use the term: “bed bug”). 
Surprisingly, my suggestion of confidentiality was rejected (possibly in retrospect, ruefully) and I explained the situation and displayed the obligate parasite of Homo sapiens,  Cimex lectularius  - the common beg bug, right there at the desk.  I will say that at this point Mr. Gilbert X became very attentive and began to deal with the situation promptly and professionally.  We were offered the resources of the hotel to move us to a presumably uncontaminated room and to clean our luggage and personal effects.  All well and good but we had to surrender all but the clothes on our backs for a 24 hour period and then repeat the process the next day in order to not go naked during a conference (I am fine with nakedness in certain situations but this wasn’t one of them).  During this inconvenience we missed a significant part of the proceedings.
Before check out time, I requested a meeting (again quiet and confidential) with the concierge to discuss our bill.  I suggested that I might have done them a large favor with my observant and quick and effective action.  I suggested that, had I been a lawyer or someone out to make the most of every situation, they might have had an even bigger problem.  Much like a negotiation with a car salesman, he offered nothing except: “What are you willing to pay?”  Not a good negotiator, I was waiting for his offer…  We ended up paying half price for our stay.  Probably a great deal for them… then again, I’m not a lawyer or the other names you often hear them called.  I’m satisfied.
However, I hope that I get a letter of thanks from the parent company.  I know that I saved their asses and didn’t even try to get a free drink at the bar.

What would you have done?