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Without a microscope, it's impossible to know whether a person or object is contaminated with germs. Because of this, many stories encourage people to be hygienic and vigilant to avoid getting infected or infecting others. To make this clear, it'll often show the exact moment somebody contracts a disease, cluing in the audience before the person even knows they're infected. It can come before the character gets sick to serve as foreshadowing, or a flashback can show how an already-sick character caught the illness- even showing an earlier scene with more obvious focus on the contaminated things they touched. There may be a montage of these scenes that show the illness jumping from person to person, setting up a full-blown epidemic.

Generally, the ways of highlighting somebody getting infected fall into two categories, which are not mutually exclusive:

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  1. Emphasis with Editing: Once the person comes in contact with the infected surface, it will be emphasized with either camera techniques (slow motion shot of them touching the object, a close-up of the infected surface, etc) or an ominous shift in music, possibly a Scare Chord.
  2. Visualized Germs: The disease will be coded as some visual effect, such as a Sickly Green Glow covering contaminated objects, or Monstrous Germs hanging out on the surface, or even grosser, the actual infected bodily fluids may be more visible. When the person comes in contact, the visual effect will spread to them.

Often seen in a Sick Episode. Can be Five-Second Foreshadowing when these scenes come shortly before the character gets sick. If the character's symptoms begin in the same scene as the infection, that's Instant Illness. Overlaps with Typhoid Mary if the disease is deadly and the person spreading disease is asymptomatic. This may lead to a Contamination Situation, or happen during it to indicate that containment has failed. For the germophobic, this can be sheer Paranoia Fuel.

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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In the Futurama comic "A Cure for the Common Clod", Fry, who has an alien version of a cold, is illustrated sneezing on Leela, Hermes, and Amy. Several pages later, they all come down with it.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Gravity Falls fanfic A Little Too Much Of A Good Thing, Mabel finds herself teamed up with her own personal clone, who at first seems perfectly friendly. However, it turns out that Mabel 2 is a Clone by Conversion and her condition is contagious: around the time people start keeling over and transforming into identical copies of Mabel, it's realized that 2's habit of hugging and high-fiving anyone in range was deliberately calculated to spread the infection as far as possible. Mabel later realizes to her horror that she is Patient Zero: 2 is actually Dipper, having been accidentally infected by Mabel herself when she shook him awake in the first chapter of the story.

     Film - Live Action 
  • 28 Days Later: Frank tries to shoo off a crow from a dead zombie, leading to a line-of-sight shot of a droplet of zombie blood falling into his eye. The Virus works so fast he has just enough time to apologize to his daughter before he loses his mind.
  • The very last scene of Contagion is a flashback to "Day 1" of the fictional MEV-1 virus, showing how patient zero, Beth Emhoff contracted the illness. Bulldozers owned by AIMM, the corporation Beth works for, clear land in the forests outside of Hong Kong, causing several bats to seek out a new roost. One bat flies into a barn where pigs are kept, transmitting its germs to the pigs. One pig is sold to the kitchens in the casino that Beth visits. The chef preparing the pig doesn't wash up before shaking Beth's hand. This is an "Emphasis with Editing" example, as the camera tracks the exact chain of events that led to patient zero's exposure to MEV-1.
  • Outbreak has numerous instances of this. First, when a courier takes the Motaba Virus infected African Monkey to release it into the Northern California redwood forest, he gets scratched (which the camera focuses on), and boards a plane where his girlfriend meets him at the airport and make out, infecting her; the camera does a spin effect before showing the courier collapsing from illness. At the pet store where the courier tried to sell the monkey, a half eaten banana is taken by another monkey infecting it, and it infects the shop owner, who later dies in the hospital. Later, a careless lab technician gets the shop owner's contaminated blood on him. Up to this point, Motaba Virus could only be spread through physical contact, however it mutates inside the lab assistant to be spread via the air, and when he has a coughing fit he infects dozens of movie theater goers, with a lot of focus on his flushed face and the mucus droplets in the air. Robby and Casey, two virologists, work non-stop for days, and the fatigue makes them careless in the lab. The camera focuses on a tear in Robby's hazmat suit that allows the virus to enter, and a needle prick on Casey's hand that she tries to disinfect.
  • In Osmosis Jones, Frank the zookeeper's boiled egg is stolen by a chimp, who puts it in its mouth. After Frank chokes the chimp, it spits out the egg, and there's a slow-motion shot of the egg falling to the ground and landing in hay. We can assume that this is where Thrax the virus hitched a ride on the egg, which Frank then eats.
  • In the film Scott Joplin, the title character is shown being seduced by a young woman. Later, while performing at a gala gathering of brothel madams at Tom Turpin's club, he has a flashback to the seduction where he realizes he caught syphilis this way.

    Literature 
  • The Andromeda Strain: In the film, Dr. Stone shows what happens to a monkey as it's exposed to Andromeda: the doctors and the viewers are shown the exposure and death as all the monkey's blood coagulates in seconds.
  • The children's book Blow Your Nose, Big Bad Wolf is a retelling of The Three Little Pigs where instead of trying to eat the pigs, the wolf has a cold and wants them to give him a tissue. Near the end of the book, he gets into their brick house and falls into a pot, and sneezes all over the three pigs. The final pages show the three pigs sick with the cold they caught from the wolf.
  • Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo starts with all of the zoo animals being very sick, and then shows how they caught it: a girl named Felicity Floo came to the zoo, rubbed her snotty nose with her hand, and then pet all the animals, leaving sticky green handprints all over the place.
  • The children's book Sick Simon shows a very sick boy named Simon carelessly going to school even when he's sick, sneezing on people and radiating a green germy glow. After he interacts with his family, classmates, and teacher, we see them sick on the subsequent pages. Germs even thank him for helping them spread, and we see as he coughs, a bunch of germs parachute out of his mouth. The next pages show the germs hanging out on doorknobs, handrails, and the air, then show a bunch of people who are as sick as Simon.
  • In The Stand, the Captain Trips virus spreads very rapidly across America once it escapes from the lab, and one chapter tracks its expansion by following the various people the Patient Zero infected before he finally kicked the bucket, and then following them as they infect more people, and so on and so forth. One passage in particular draws attention to the tip an infected man left for a waitress at a cafe, described as "crawling with death."

    Live Action TV 
  • The Bernie Mac Show: The birthday party sequence at "Now You Got It" shows a little girl's flu spreading to all the other kids at a party. The infection is represented by green powder jumping from the infected kid to whatever they're touching, with text coming up saying "He/She's got it!" It leads to all of Bernie's kids coming in contact with the illness, and ends with Bryana blowing out the candles on the cake, spreading green powder all over the cake, with a caption saying, "Cake's got it!" By the next act, all the kids are sick, and Bernie (who's trying to avoid getting sick so he can go to Vegas) manages to avoid them...until he eats some leftover cake. "Now Bernie's got it!"
  • The Big Bang Theory
    • Howard Wolowitz returns from his trip to space to discover his reunion with Bernadette is not going according to plan. Even when she meets him at the airport, she is coughing and sneezing. Later in bed, she is running a high fever, has an inflamed red nose, and is still sneezing. Despite being tanked up on something like "Night Nurse" and with her nose streaming, she still wants to have sex. She is seen to kiss Howard before passing out, and the look of horror on his face tells us all we need to know. Sure enough, later in the episode, he is down with the same bug.
    • In a different episode, Sheldon Cooper throws a hissy fit when he realises Leonard is taking Penny to an academic freebie in Switzerland - and not him. Penny goes down with a bug that forbids her to travel. Sheldon is perplexed he has caught the same bug, as he scrupulously refrains from touching people. Then he has a flashback. To Penny hugging him, a day or two before she went down.
  • Good Luck Charlie: In "Teddy Rebounds," Jimmy, the bassist for PJ's band, gets in Charlie's face and coos at her without knowing Charlie is sick. Charlie sneezes in Jimmy's face, getting snot on his glasses. Later, Jimmy is too sick to be part of the band.
  • The Middle: The episode "Royal Wedding" ends with Frankie suddenly coming down with a bad case of pinkeye, unsure of how she caught it. Cut to a flashback where a kid in the department store puts on some 3D glasses in the entertainment section, then walks away rubbing his eyes before Frankie walks in and tries on the glasses herself.
  • My Wife and Kids: At the doctor's office near the end of the episode, the scene turns to slow motion as it shows the doctor sneeze into his hand and then touch the doorknob. Michael, who has spent the whole episode trying not to get sick, touches the doorknob and then touches his face, all while ominous music plays. The same slow-mo effect and scary music comes up during the basketball game, when Michael sneezes into his hand before shaking hands with LeBron, which leads to LeBron having to sit out of the game.
  • 1000 Ways to Die: One story has a "psychic surgeon" (a surgeon who supposedly removes infected body parts without any kind of incision or damage to the patient) in the Philippines who performs his miracles for a sizeable amount of money. He's actually a scam artist, and winds up becoming infected with leprosy when treating a leper and the latter's infected nasal mucus gets on his hand. The story fast forwards a few weeks later when the surgeon is completely infected and dies a slow and agonizing death.
  • Scrubs used a visual cue in "My Cabbage," covering infected people with a Sickly Green Glow to show how easily germs can spread. Sadly comes back at the end of the episode, the bumbling intern picks up a dirty glove, turning his hand green, and then shakes the hand of an old lady who was just about to leave the hospital, turning her hand green. Then she touches her face, and her whole face turns green. The disease kills her several episodes later.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In the teaser of "The Naked Time", Spock and Lt. Joe Tormolen, both wearing hazmat suits, beam down to a research station where everyone is dead, and there's no immediate clue as to why. Tormolen's nose itches, so he takes off his hazmat glove to scratch his nose, then kneels down to scan under a desk, and we get a close-up shot of a red liquid coalescing into droplets and flowing onto his hand. Tormolen then scratches his nose again and puts his glove back on, at which point Spock comes in and reminds him to be sure not to expose himself to anything. Naturally, Tormolen contracts a deadly disease as a result, which he brings back to the Enterprise.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Naked Now", everytime someone new is infected with the virus a kind of shimmering sound plays.
  • In the Zoey 101 episode "The Play," Chase has a sick Dustin cough on Logan's pillow so Logan will be too sick to be in the play and kiss Zoey. During the night, however, Logan's pillow falls from the top bunk onto Chase's bed, and the camera slowly pans towards Chase as he hugs the pillow in his sleep. Of course, Chase wakes up sick the next day.

    Video Games 
  • In Red Dead Redemption II, Arthur, working as a debt collector, roughs up a debtor who's dying from tuberculosis, during which the debtor coughs blood onto Arthur's face. Ominous music plays over the cutscene as Arthur rides away from the debtor's homestead, foreshadowing his eventual diagnosis of, and death from, tuberculosis.
  • In Hitman (2016), a gameplay-assisting variation happens. The mission "Patient Zero" highlights all infected targets as red silhouettes, and when they get infected (or the infected infect someone else), they begin coughing to signify this change.

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: One of the scenes shown in the story of a village that fell to a Rash outbreak is the Brainwashed and Crazy inhabitant being used as a Plaguemaster huffing into the face of a non-immune friend. It takes a few more pages, and a few more days in-universe, for characters to realize what happened at the time. When the realization happens, there is a flash-back to the infected person simply standing near a large number of people, which is enough since the infection range of the Rash is of about three meters for a carrier in their Typhoid Mary phase.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Back at the Barnyard special "It's An Udderful Life," Otis grabs a visiting Santa Claus a cup of cinnamon eggnog...as the camera lingers on a sign behind the cup saying "Freddy's Cup - DO NOT TOUCH!" Freddy, who is very sick with "ferret fever," comes in asking for the cup, and Santa notices that the cup has Freddy's name on it. Santa's not worried, as he's healthy as they come...then we take a glimpse inside his bloodstream, where Freddy-shaped germs beat up Santa-shaped white blood cells, and suddenly Santa's too sick to work.
  • Clarence: In the episode "Straight Illin'," Jeff and Sumo hide in the air vents to try to get Clarence, who is very sick but in denial, to see the nurse. Clarence comes into the vents behind them and sneezes. A green cloud of germs with little faces flies out of his mouth and through the vents into every room of the school. By the time Jeff, Sumo, and Clarence get to the nurse, not only are Jeff and Sumo sick, but the entire school is as well.
  • Futurama: Planet Express gets quarantined because of a common cold outbreak (since humanity has lost its immunity to the cold, it spreads much more quickly), but Bender (who is immune due to being a robot) breaks out to avoid playing caretaker. Unfortunately, Zoidberg sneezes a bunch of green gunk onto Bender, which stays on Bender's fingers after he breaks quarantine. Bender then proceeds to shake the hands of all the CDC workers overseeing the quarantine, except the last worker, who gets his cheeks affectionately pinched by Bender, leaving green gunk all over his face. All the workers start coughing, and it soon spins into a full-blown epidemic.
  • In Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs episode "Achoo!", we see Sid become infected with a disease that makes him expand and float like a balloon after one of a sick Taury's spots falls off and goes into his mouth.
  • In How to Catch a Cold, while it's a little ambiguous which one of the people who sneezed on the protagonist gave him his cold (and it also implies being in the cold and rain could have made him sick), it does show how several people caught colds: his wife and son caught it when he kissed them on the cheek, the wife's friend caught it when she sneezed on her, a little boy caught it when he ate a lollipop his sick friend had already sucked, and a baby caught it when it was handed a doll that the candy-sucking girl had been holding. The things the protagonist has contaminated are highlighted with a red dust effect.
  • Johnny Test: In "Johnny's Got A... Wart!", Johnny heads off to school, only to find a huge wart on his hand, and he and Dukey discuss all the events that could've lead to its formation. Respectively, the events recalled are Johnny juggling toads and touching his eyeballs at the same time, kissing a warthog, and receiving a lollipop from a witch in a gingerbread house. Johnny says nothing comes to mind.
  • Kim Possible: In "Sick Day", Kim comes down with a cold and wonder how she caught it. Wade "helpfully" illustrates this by showing camera footage of the "germ trail": Showing that when she went to give her twin brothers, who were sick at the time, a tissue, one of them had place their hand on the table where she unknowingly put her hand on and then covered her mouth with it, unwittingly infecting herself.
  • The Loud House's Sick Episode "One Flu Over the Loud House" has a montage showing how the first Loud sisters all got sick, depicted as an old sepia-tone movie reel with suspenseful music playing. Lori sneezes on a basketball, leaving visible gunk. Lynn picks up the basketball, gets the gunk on her face, and gets sick. Lynn drinks out of the orange juice carton, which Lana then pours juice out of, and we're treated to a close-up of her drinking the germs in her drink. Finally, Lana coughs green gunk on Lola, and she gets sick.
  • Subverted in the The Mighty B! episode "Apoxalypse Now," where Bessie sneaks into Gwen's house while Gwen and her brothers have chicken pox so she can catch it and acquire a Chicken Pox Badge, with Ben (who her mother says had it already and is immune) distracting Gwen at the front door. Bessie rolls herself in the family's bath mat and makes disgusting contact with the infected brothers, slurping up the spit from one of the brothers' thermometers and rubbing the baby brother all over herself. However, Bessie doesn't get sick because it turns out she is the one who had chicken pox before, not Ben. Since Ben wasn't immune, he ends up sick from talking to Gwen.
  • Mike, Lu & Og: In "Sneeze, Please", a cold-ridden Mike spreads her virus to Lu by sneezing at her, as illustrated by a close-up of her germs forming a catapult to fire themselves into Lu's mouth.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: The Amoeba Boys catch a cold after sitting outside in the rain, and Slim sneezes near an apple cart, leaving a green trail that immediately infects the apple seller, who sneezes another green trail all over the apples. A man eats one of the apples and immediately gets sick, sneezing right before getting on a bus; when the bus hits the next stop, all the passengers are sick, and even passing by another person will infect them. This soon escalates into an epidemic.
  • In Your Friend the Rat, a short movie in the bonus features of Ratatouille, the part about the bubonic plague shows fleas biting people, who then get covered in lesions and die.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "Rick Potion Number 9" Rick gives Morty a serum that will make Jessica fall in love with him, not realizing that it's currently flu season. The effects of the serum then begin spreading along with the flu, depicted via tiny green globules flying out at other characters, followed by their eyes dilating as the serum takes effect. It quickly spreads out of Morty's school and across the entire planet, and Rick's attempts to fix the problem only end turning the victims into hideous monsters. And this all happens at a school dance themed around flu prevention, with a song about avoiding the flu playing over the scenes of infection.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Marge in Chains", a worker at a Japanese kitchen appliance factory begs another employee not to tell the supervisor he has the flu, right before he coughs a visible cloud of germs into a box carrying a juicer to Springfield. This cuts to shots of several Springfieldians opening their juicers and inhaling the germ clouds, and within a few days the entire town is suffering an Osaka flu outbreak. Oddly, the germ clouds aren't just visible to the audience, but to the characters, who all react in terror as soon as they open the boxes.
    Seymour Skinner: Good lord! Flu germs entering every orifice of my head! [faints]
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Fungus Among Us," an itchy green gunk called "ick" spreads all over SpongeBob and causes a rash. At work, Squidward calls in a SWAT team to take SpongeBob away by helicopter, but a flake of ick falls off his body onto Squidward's head, which the camera zooms in on with ominous music. Squidward later shakes his head, unknowingly causing the ick to fly all over the Krabby Patties, and it spreads to the customers as they eat their food. After giving a customer some change with his infected tentacle, Squidward realizes he's got the ick when he sees the customer push up his glasses and get ick on his face.
  • South Park:
    • Played with in "Chickenpox," when the boys' parents send Stan, Kyle, and Cartman to Kenny's house so they'll catch chickenpox from Kenny and become immune. Kenny's mom tells Kenny to sneeze on Cartman, which he does. Cartman catches chickenpox, as does Stan, but Kyle doesn't get sick. His and Kenny's moms set up a long playdate between Kyle and Kenny, with Sheila making up a game where Kenny has to spit into Kyle's mouth. Nevertheless, Kyle still doesn't get the virus.
    • Implied more strongly later in "Chickenpox": the boys learn their parents deliberately infected them, and set up revenge by having a prostitute with herpes infect their parents' belongings. Cue a montage where she uses Randy and Sharon's toothbrushes and drinks from their milk carton, uses Sheila's lipstick and pokes her skin with the Broflovski's eating utensils, rubs Liane's panties on her face, and licks the Marshs' wine glasses and phone receiver. At the end of the episode, all of the parents have herpes sores on their faces (though they don't in subsequent episodes), except Liane, who has them "somewhere else."
    • "Pandemic Special" has a Double Subversion when revealing the Patient Zero for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Scientists theorize the virus originates from a bat from Wuhan, China and ponder how it jumped to infect humans. Cut to Randy Marsh having a flashback of his stoned escapades in China, which culminates in a scene of him high as hell, fucking a bat. He's grateful to later learn the bat was not the origin of COVID-19...but when the scientists reveal a pangolin was the origin of the virus, he has another flashback to later during that trip where he fucked that pangolin as well.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In the pilot, just before returning from the Galardon homeworld, Commander Ransom is bitten on the neck by a bug. As the away team steps off the transporter pad, Lt. Cmdr. Stevens suggests he should go to sickbay to get it checked, and Ransom cheerfully replies that he'll be fine. Less than a minute later, there's a huge purple swelling on his neck. Two minutes after that, he turns into a Bad Black Barf-spitting Hate Plague zombie.
  • Total DramaRama: The episode "Germ Factory" has the toddlers try to get sick by licking their germ-filled bathroom, except Courtney, who refuses to miss a day of daycare. Then a sick Bridgette sneezes on Courtney's face, with a close-up showing germs where Bridgette sneezed. She later gets sick with everyone else, though she still shows up to daycare begging to be let in.
  • We Bare Bears: In "Bubble," When Panda becomes Terrified of Germs after seeing a horror movie, he pictures visible germs all over the subway while horror music plays. A guy coughs into his hand and touches the railing, coating it with germs that spread over to a mother's hand when she grabs the railing. The mother then licks her thumb to wipe crumbs off her kid's mouth, covering the kid's mouth with germs. The kid sneezes on Panda, causing him to flip out.

 
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How Quickly Infection Spreads

In the episode "My Cabbage", Dr. Kelso demonstrates how quickly a deadly infection can spread in a hospital, which is helpfully visualized via green glow.

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