Written by: Alanna Shaikh and re-posted from End the Neglect, the blog for the Global Network of Neglected Tropical Diseases.
So, it’s been a long week and you can’t quite find the energy to get out of bed and go to work . Staying home sick is a hard sell on Fridays; the same old stomach bug isn’t going to cut it. So why not fake an NTD instead ? You can’t just claim any old neglected tropical disease, though. That wouldn’t be realistic at all. This is going to take a little research.
First you need an NTD that is actually prevalent – or at least occasionally found – where you live. In North America, you’re pretty much stuck with dengue fever or Chagas diseases as your only believable options. Here in Central Asia, you’re down to leishmaniasis and rabies. If you happen to live in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, though, you’re golden. You can claim anything from lymphatic filariasis to chikungunia with total plausibility.
Next, you need an NTD with symptoms you can successfully mimic. So lymphatic filariasis is right out – you can’t exactly make your limbs swell up grotesquely on command . Same with Onchocerciasis, Leishmaniasis, and Shistosomiasis. Visible, horrifying symptoms; not easily faked. (Residents of Central Asia, in other words, are going to have to claim they have rabies from an invisible animal bite, but you can always say you encountered a bat.)
Helminthes are a good choice. They ruin your health invisibly, and as an added bonus you can blame any recent work difficulties on the damage that helminthes do to cognition. Chagas is good in that way too, or African trypanosomiasias. Not only will they get you out of an unpleasant Friday, they’ll also retroactively explain your last six months of napping at your desk. The downside to Chagas and African trypanosomaisis is that they don’t really have a good cure and generally end with your death. Sooner or later your coworkers will look the disease up on Wikipedia and wonder why you’re still around.
Guinea-worm is also free of visible symptoms, but you run the risk of people wanting pictures of the giant worm as it’s extracted from your body. And then you’ll find yourself photo-shopping photos and posting them to Facebook; maybe just going in to work would be easier.
Dengue fever is near global at this point, since it is easily carried from one community to another from refugees, immigrants, and travelers. Its effects are debilitating, but also invisible and non-fatal. It would be the clear get-out-of-work winner if it wasn’t for leprosy.
Leprosy, I think, is the best choice. It can be cured with antibiotics before it gets really icky. It’s not all that contagious, but very few people know that, since it has thousands of years of ick factor attached to the name. Everyone at your workplace would probably be thrilled if you stay home, and no one is going to get close enough to you to ask any questions.
 If you have my awesome boss, you can email her and say “I need to work from home, I’m feeling agoraphobic,” and it’s all good as long as you get everything done. But not everyone can work for people as awesome as my boss.
 This post was inspired by a friend who will remain anonymous, who skyped me to ask how to fake dengue fever to get out of a major deadline.
 If you can, may I suggest circus sideshow as an alternate career?
Alanna Shaikh is an expert in health consulting, writing about global health for UN Dispatch and about international relief and development at Blood & Milk.