I tend to say “gesundheit” when I hear someone くしゃみ (kushami, sneeze) nearby. It means something close to “high health” in German. Others say “bless you,” but I always wondered if I should say that if I’m not religious. I asked a Chinese friend if he says anything when people sneeze and he told me that when he was younger his parents would say, “yībǎi suì” on the first sneeze and “liǎngbǎi suì” on the second. The first word means “100 years” and the second “200,” and is also a wish for a long life.

In Japan it seems that you don’t say anything when someone sneezes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice every sneeze and cough you hear, especially these days. Japan is in the middle of a 大パニック (daipanikku, large panic) thanks to news of a spreading 新型のコロナウイルスによる肺炎 (shingata no koronauirusu ni yoru haien), a term used to describe a new coronavirus.

The virus — a 伝染病 (densenbyō, contagious disease) — was first detected in the Chinese city of 武漢 (Bukan, Wuhan). Now, that city is effectively under 検疫 (ken’eki, quarantine) as Chinese authorities have put restrictions on movement in and out of the city. Still, 新型肺炎の感染が広がっている (shingata haien no kansen ga hirogatte-iru, the new coronavirus’ infection is spreading) and as of Jan. 30, 日本国内で11人の感染者が確認されました (Nihon kokunai de jūichi-nin no kansensha ga kakunin saremashita, 11 people in Japan have been confirmed to have the virus). The Japanese government has labeled it a 指定感染症 (shitei kansenshō, designated infectious disease).

Is it time to run for the hills? No. While this isn’t your normal 病気 (byōki, illness), it is still a good opportunity to review medical-related Japanese so you know what to tell the 医者 (isha, doctor) when you start to feel a 風邪 (kaze, cold) coming on.

First things first, know your 症状 (shōjō, symptoms). 咳がでる? (Seki ga deru?, Do you have a cough?) 熱がある? (Netsu ga aru?, Do you have a fever?) 具合が悪い? (Guai ga warui?, Is your overall condition bad?) If so, maybe マスクをつけて薬局に行ったほうがいい (masuku o tsukete yakkyoku ni itta hō ga ii, you’d better put on a face mask and head to the pharmacy) before seeking out a doctor. The 薬局 will have plenty of over-the-counter 風邪薬 (kazegusuri, cold medicines) you can try.

Common 症状 for the new 新型肺炎 include 咳, 発熱 (hatsunetsu, sudden fever), 息切れ (ikigire, shortness of breath), 呼吸困難 (kokyū konnan, breathing difficulties), 下痢 (geri, diarrhea) and 胃腸の不快感 (ichō no fukaikan, gastrointestinal discomfort), and while 嘔吐 (ōto, vomiting) isn’t a symptom per se, it’s good to know the word. Let’s hope you don’t have any of these (especially just now), but if you do then you may want to visit a local クリニック (kurinikku, clinic) or 病院 (byōin, hospital), and call 119 for a 救急車 (kyūkyūsha, ambulance) if necessary.

After arriving at a 病院, look for the section marked 内科 (naika, internal medicine). The other option, 外科 (geka, surgery), deals with broken legs and that kind of thing. Once you’ve been assigned an 医者 or 看護師 (kangoshi, nurse), you as the 患者 (kanja, patient) will be asked about your 症状 in detail.

It helps to look up some vocabulary in advance if you can. You can tell the doctor that particular body parts hurt, for example: 喉が痛い (nodo ga itai, my throat hurts) or 頭が痛い (atama ga itai, my head hurts). If you don’t know the word for the body part that hurts, though, it may be best to just point somewhere on your body and say ここが痛い (koko ga itai, here’s where it hurts). Adverbs like 少し (sukoshi, a little) and とても (totemo, very) will also help the doctor in their 診断 (shindan, diagnosis): 昨日から咳がでて、喉がとても痛いです (Kinō kara seki ga dete, nodo ga totemo itai desu, I’ve been coughing since yesterday and my throat really hurts).

Once the doctor has reached their 診断, you may or may not need a 処方せん (shohōsen, prescription) to take to a 薬局. It could be that you may not need any medicine, in which case the doctor may advise you to うがい、手洗いを徹底してください (ugai, tearai o tettei shite kudasai, please gargle and wash your hands thoroughly). They may also recommend that 十分な睡眠と栄養で体調を整えることが大切 (jūbunna suimin to eiyō de taichō o totonoeru koto ga taisetsu, it is important to get enough sleep and sufficient nourishment to keep yourself in good condition) so that you don’t get even sicker.

When receiving treatment it’s also important to be able to communicate any possible problems such as ペニシリンのアレルギーがある (penishirin no arerugī ga aru, I have an allergy to penicillin) or 保険を持っている (hoken o motte-iru, I have insurance).

Whatever happens with the new coronavirus, please 気を付けて (ki o tsukete, be careful) and お大事に (o-daiji ni, get well soon)!

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