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Jan. 30, 2024 – Getting sick may bring on more than sniffles or a fever. For most people, it also can bring out the sneaky in them.

According to one study, 75% of people admitted that they’ve covered up an infectious illness. And that includes health care workers: More than 6 in 10 of them said they hadn’t reported an illness, actively tried to cover it up, or planned to keep any future illness secret.  

The study used combined data taken from previous studies that involved about 4,100 people. It looked at people’s behaviors or intentions regarding past, current, and future illnesses.

The data showed that people reported keeping quiet about being sick even when doing things like taking airplane trips or going on dates. Many said they covered up an illness because it would conflict with social plans. Researchers stated that staying mum about being sick is a way for people to reach their personal goals by trading the risks of spreading illness to others.

Some people reported faking their responses on mandatory illness screening tools such as those used by employers or universities during the pandemic. In a group of college students whose university used a screening tool to ask if they were sick before allowing them into campus buildings, 41% said they tried to cover up an illness. 

The study found that when it comes to being sick, what people plan to do and what they actually do are often two different things. When researchers asked study participants to imagine having a harmful illness and a mild one, people more often said they’d be less likely to conceal the harmful one. But when they’re actually sick, people frequently hide it, even if they’re likely to spread an illness -- and possible danger -- to others. 

Researchers concluded that people tend to judge the consequences of hiding an illness when they’re well differently from when they’re sick. When they’re sick, they’re often less sensitive to how contagious they may actually be and how severely ill they can make other people. 

This behavior can create potentially serious consequences for public health. When trying to keep yourself and your family safe from contagious illness, don’t just take people’s word for it that they’re fine. Take precautions. And if you’re not feeling well? Remember the golden rule and stay home.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Blend Images/Getty Images


Psychological Science: “When and Why People Conceal Infectious Disease.”

Association for Psychological Science: “People Are Inclined to Hide a Contagious Illness While Around Others, Research Shows.”

University of Michigan: “Yes, (cough) I’m fine (sneeze) to work.”