Vincent: It's probably me.
Guard: It is?
Vincent: Yeah, I'm here a lot. I... [coughs] ...got this disease, the doctors can't... [coughs] ...figure out what it is, but... [coughs] ...you don't have to worry about it. They don't think it's contagious, it's fine.
Guard: [...] Alright... Eh... Well... This is my floor, so feel better!
This trope is for when a disease is used as a deterrent, preying on the fears of those being tricked in order to escape capture. The idea behind it is taking advantage of other people's survival instincts.
You've finally infiltrated a city or stronghold. You're looking around wondering what to do next when suddenly you hear a voice telling you to stop. It appears a guard or other equivalent Mook has just happened to pass by and catch you. You're suspicious as it is, but if he looks more closely, he'll realize you're an enemy of the state or you have some incriminating evidence on you that you don't want him to find. What do you do?
Fake a disease, of course. It doesn't even have to be a real disease, as long as it sounds appropriately scary. Gorapoxacephalitis will work just fine, then start shambling around, act disconnected from the world, and mention it's contagious, the guard will go running in the other direction leaving you alone. In fact, you get bonus points if you made up the disease on the spot and it came entirely from your imagination. Extra bonus points if the guard mentions that he's heard of the disease before.
There's also a version where a character is in danger of being raped, and she deceives the rapist into thinking she has an STD, so that if the ruse is successful, the rapist loses interest. In a less dramatic version, a woman could turn down a man's pick-up lines by claiming to have a disease.
It's possible that this trope is more common in parody, where the disease used is so obviously not a real disease, it's funny that the guard falls for it.
- Berserk: In the Conviction story arc, a lost and wandering Casca is taken in by Luca, the compassionate madam of a band of prostitutes. Since Casca is a pretty young woman but has the mentality of a very young child, Luca keeps her out of the way, and protects her from being taken advantage of by clients by wrapping her face in bandages and claiming she has syphilis.
- In ∀ Gundam, after the quest for Lost Technology results in several nuclear warheads going off, Loran is given the remaining two for safekeeping. When one of Dianna Counter's lieutenants turns up hoping to seize them, Loran and his companions charge her in their mobile suits and broadcast cries of thirst, which scares her away. He explains afterwards that according to historical records, people who took fatal doses of radiation from nuclear explosions would beg for water as they died.
- In Dr. STONE, Chrome is captured by Tsukasa's Empire of Might but manages to pull off a jailbreak. The jailer Yo chases him down, but Chrome psychs him out with fake Blood from the Mouth and lies about having pneumonia. While Yo is recoiling in fear, Chrome hits him between the legs with a bamboo pole and escapes.
- Jeff Foxworthy suggested using terms like "explosive diarrhea" when calling in sick to work.
- In Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin routs a guard by pretending that Snowy is rabid. A dangerous gamble, as a braver guard could have shot Snowy before Tintin had a chance to reach him and wrest the rifle from him.
- In The Crab with the Golden Claws, Tintin claims that Snowy had rabies in order to scare a man out of his taxicab.
- A rare villain example occurs in Prisoners of the Sun when the crew of the ship where Calculus is being held put up a quarantine flag and have a crooked doctor declare the ship out of bounds. However, Tintin isn't fooled.
- Batman #163 has Robin fake smallpox to scare some Mooks away and escape.
- Played with in Garulfo: in order to get by unquestioned, the heroes (one of which is in the body of a frog) wrap themselves in a moldy shroud, shaking a clacker and moaning "Leper! Leper!". Then they meet a smart guard, who knows better than to back away, and knocks off the hood... to see a pair of bulbous yellow eyes on a wizened green body. He runs, fast.
- At least two Archie Comics have used a gag where Archie hears that Mr. Weatherby is going to visit his house to give his parents news (assumed to be about Archie's misbehavior at school) and tries to prevent it by disguising himself as an old woman and pretending that the Andrews family moved away and there's currently a very ill child on the premises.
Mr. Weatherby: It's no wonder the Andrews family moved away so suddenly. I must remember to buy a quarantine sign!
- In one Conchy strip, the king turns back an invasion from the East Island by standing on the beach holding a sign that reads "TURN BACK. WE'VE ALL GOT LEPROSY".
- In Ninja Wizard Book 3 Harry and the Gaang sneak into Omashu via the sewers and a purple pentapus attaches itself to Sokka, leaving sucker marks after it's pulled away. When a pair of guards asks what they're doing out after curfew, Katara claims that Sokka has the extremely contagious "pentapox." They use much the same ruse later on when they need to evacuate innocent citizens.
- In Monsters, Inc., the monsters have gotten the idea that children are extremely hazardous, and panic ensues whenever an exposure is thought to have happened. Anything touched by a child is treated as a hazmat scene. This allows the government to easily intervene when a child is brought into the monster world.
- In My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), Capper warns his fellow Klugetown residents that the Mane Six are infected with the in-universe fictional disease "pastellis coloritis", taking advantage of the ponies' natural vivid colors. Later, one of the Residents wises up to the ruse, but confronts Tempest Shadow about it, who promptly hands his cupcakes to him.
- In the Danny Kaye vehicle The Court Jester, the lady Jean (played by Glynis Johns) tells the lecherous king (played by Cecil Parker) that she is unused to male attention because of the fear of "Breckenridge's Scourge." Breckenridge being her poor departed father, but don't worry, sire, they say it's not contagious. Oh, the unspeakable agony...
- The Cure (1995) has a rare case where the person pulling off the trick actually is ill: Joseph Mazzello's character, who is HIV positive from a blood transfusion, chases off an attacker by cutting himself and chasing the bad guy away while screaming "My blood is poison!"
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Azeem pretends to be a leper to simultaneously keep guards away and hide his race.
- In Schindler's List, Stern adopted the habit of constantly scratching his head to give the guards the impression that he has lice. In several scenes, guards are seen taking steps off the path when he walks by to make sure they do not get close enough to catch it.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home "Dammit, man, this woman has an immediate case of post-prandial, upper-abdominal distention!" In a two-for-one, this is also an Expospeak Gag.
Kirk: What did you say she has?
- In Fight Club, Tyler doesn't claim he has a disease, however in modern times you don't want to be sprayed with a stranger's blood:
Tyler Durden: [his face is soaked in blood; he is shaking it over Lou and screaming] You don't know where I've been. You don't know where I've been.
- In Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, this device is used twice; once to get the female love interest away from her owner by claiming that she has a terrible, deadly disease to which the protagonist, fortunately enough, just happens to be immune, and once when said owner, trying to avoid the irascible customer who has paid in advance for the girl, pretends to be a leper to keep everyone away. Sight gags involving fake limbs being thrown at people abound.
- In Tommy Boy, the main characters escape ticketing and/or arrest by a similar ploy (claiming they are being swarmed by bees).
- In Alien³ Clements plays with the fear of an outbreak of cholera in the prison complex in order to convince his superior to allow him to perform an autopsy. Problem is, cholera has been extinct for centuries and said superior knows that.
- Swiss Family Robinson: while salvaging the shipwreck, the father chases off attacking pirates with a quarantine flag, explaining to his sons the flag means Black Death is aboard.
- In Another Thin Man, Nora is surrounded by admirers and Nick wants to have a word in private with her.
Nick: Now Mommy, you know you shouldn't be out of bed so soon. What would the doctors say?
Nora: [catching on] I won't go back into quarantine, I don't care who catches it!
[everyone around them makes excuses and leaves]
- In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris' sister uses the the house intercom to tell the "intruder" downstairs that she has her father's gun and "a scorching case of herpes."
- Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon. Dee is thrown into prison by his superior, but convinces medical assistant Shatuo to give him a herb that he's allergic to, causing Dee to froth at the mouth and his face to come up in a rash. Shatuo recommends isolation against the 'deadly measles'. With no guards willing to watch them, our heroes sneak out and continue the case.
- Combined with Bodybag Trick in The First Great Train Robbery. Donald Sutherland's character is smuggled on to the train in a coffin, and the guards are told he died of cholera to avoid anyone getting too curious.
- A close variant in A New Hope. Following the shoot-out in the cell block where Princess Leia is being held, Han tries to buy time by stalling the Imperial operator calling in to find out what just happened. When the operator tells him they're sending a stormtrooper squad up to check it out, Han tells him to hold off because they have a reactor leak. The operator doesn't buy it:
Operator: Who is this? What's your operating number?
Han: Uhhh... (grabs his gun and shoots the microphone) Boring conversation anyway... Luke, we're gonna have company!
- John Macnab: Archie wraps his face up because he has a toothache. Then some unwanted visitors call and ask what's wrong with his face. He sees a way to get rid of them and claims he's developing smallpox. They leave immediately.
- Older Than Radio: In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a pair of slave catchers are going to come out to the raft to take a look-see. Huck begs them to and implies that his father is aboard, deathly ill with smallpox. Not only do the slave catchers change their minds about checking out the raft, they give Huck $40 to assuage their consciences.
- Animorphs: Marco is caught mid-osprey morph by several Muggles. Fortunately he still has thought-speak, so he manages to guide Jake into convincing them Marco has beakanoma, a disfiguring disease in the shape of a beak (Jake draws the line at saying it's particularly tragic because it only affects the very handsome and intelligent).
- Richard Adams' Watership Down has one story of El-ahrairah wherein he uses the disease "Lousepedoodle" to steal a king's lettuce, and another in which he lies about the actual disease myxomatosis as part of a scheme to steal from a farmer.
- In "The Adventure of the Dying Detective", Sherlock Holmes pulls this on Dr. Watson, in order to lure the person who tried (but failed) to infect him with a lethal virus into a trap. Watson, being a skilled doctor but not a particularly good liar, wouldn't have been convincing enough if he knew what was really going on, so Holmes has to keep him from getting close enough to discover that he's only feigning illness.
- Brian Jacques has used this several times:
- In Martin the Warrior. Martin, Felldoh, and Brome pretend to have a fever when in the prison pit, to prevent the guards from climbing down and checking on them. Keyla the otter sings to attract the attention of Rose and Grumm, who are outside the fortress, and when questioned by a guard claims to have been singing a charm against fictitious diseases such as the dreaded "flurgy twinj". Brome even manages to mix rhymed directions for digging them out in his faked screams of pain.
- In Voyage of Slaves, to keep a ship from being boarded by a naval officer who would recognize the captain as a pirate.
- In Caroline Lawrence's The Roman Mysteries Flavia fakes the plague to distract some slavers. They see through it, but it works long enough to hide what it was meant to hide.
- In Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, a casket is used as a hiding place for supplies for Jews on the run. A German soldier comes in and is told that they're holding a funeral for "Great-Aunt Birte". When he suggests that they open the casket, the main character's mother says that Great-Aunt Birte died of typhus and the doctor warned them against exposure.
- In Patrick O'Brian's book Master and Commander, Dr. Maturin stops the Spanish from boarding them by expressing relief that they've shown up, now do they have a doctor aboard who understands the plague...?
- In Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, the title character claims "her" grandson has smallpox to keep the Revolutionaries at a distance.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the group dresses the Weasley family ghoul as Ron and say he has a deadly disease to keep people from checking up on him.
- In an earlier variation, Ginny patrols the corridor outside Umbridge's office in Order of the Phoenix, warning passersby about "Garrotting Gas." Too bad it doesn't work.
- In the third Slayers novel, Lina and Gourry are captured by bounty hunters. When the guards start getting lecherous, Gourry very sternly warns them not to lay a finger on Lina, or they'll catch what she's got. The guards immediately back off, but Lina is not happy.
- X-Wing Series:
- Played with in Wraith Squadron. Our heroes have taken over an enemy ship and have been posing as its crew, but they are scheduled to get a face-to-face meeting with another ship that would be able to identify the fraud. When thinking up ways to avoid the meeting the disease ploy comes up, but the enemy is Genre Savy and would get suspicious. So, they decide to turn the trick on its ear: force the other ship to cancel the meeting due to actual illness, secretly exposing their crew to the unpleasant-but-nonlethal Bunkurd Sewer Disorder. Any investigation into the situation will focus on the other ship, and not involve the Wraiths' ship at all.
- In X-Wing: Iron Fist, Face and Phanan are masquerading as guard stormtroopers on an infiltration mission. They are stopped by the next shift of guards and are queried for a password that they don't have. Face recalls his training, which says to "provide a reason and grab as much sympathy as you can". So he immediately starts coughing and hacking away, while remaining in respectful salute to the commanding officer. It works for a moment, but the officer still wants the password, and they have to shoot their way out.
- They Melted His Brain features two of the main characters bluffing their way past guards by claiming "Nailshott's Syndrome", named after one of their teachers. The two goons actually check the staff medical encyclopaedia, which reveals that Nailshott's Syndrome is a made-up disease only developed by people trying to use this trope. It then takes them several minutes to realise they've been tricked.
- In Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter, LuLing fakes having tuberculosis to get past Japanese soldiers in China during World War II.
- In the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies, Locke and Jean pretend to be what basically amounts to lepers in order to leave a city undetected.
- Also pulled in the first book, with a "plague ship" full of pirates/thieves/soldiers.
- When he's still working for the Thiefmaker, a young Locke makes himself up to look like he's caught the Black Whisper, a disease that is only lethal to adults, in order to clear out a bar so that he and his friends could rob from it. Unfortunately, the ensuing panic causes the patrons of said bar to burn it down, and nearly gets the neighborhood that it's in burned to the ground.
- Dave Barry suggested faking a contagious and lethal illness as a way to deter insurance salesmen.
Put a sign outside your house that says CAUTION: RADIOACTIVE RABID LEPROSY VICTIM WITH SMALLPOX. This won't stop a really successful salesman from entering, but it will slow him down.
- In Frederick Forsyth's The Fist Of God, a British soldier is undercover as a Kuwaiti hospital employee in downtown Kuwait during its occupation by Iraq in the Gulf War. He is stopped at a checkpoint, and gets away by whining that all of the samples in his trunk will escape into the air. He states that the samples are of cholera and smallpox. This is also thanks to his observational skills, noting that the commander of the checkpoint has noticeable facial scarring that suggests he had smallpox when he was younger.
- The protagonists of Bridge of Birds use the "Plague of the Ten Thousand Pestilential Putrescences" to break out of jail.
- In The Dragon at War, James tries to scare away the 'medicine women' who are accidentally-on-purpose killing Carolinus with decidedly unhealthy medieval medicines by claiming that Carolinus is obviously in the throes of the final stages of fytopthera infestans. Since the 'healers' and the priest with them aren't fluent in Latin, they don't realize that he just claimed that the magician has caught the Irish Potato Blight.
- In the Michael Crichton novel The Great Train Robbery, Agar the safe-cracker is smuggled onto the train in a coffin. The coffin has an alarm (these were the days when being Buried Alive was a serious fear among many), and the alarm is deliberately triggered so that the coffin will be opened— showing Agar looking (and smelling) quite dead. However, to prevent a closer examination, fellow-conspirator Miriam, playing Agar's bereaved sister, insists that if the alarm went off he couldn't possibly have died of cholera! The platform is rather quickly cleared and Agar's coffin closed and loaded posthaste...
- In Commodore Hornblower, a Brit working as a French privateer poses as the captain of the ship he's just taken and claims that they have smallpox aboard. It almost works, but Hornblower decides to call his bluff by sending over a surgeon, as the noise from below is too loud and insistent for weakened, feverish wretches.
- The Stainless Steel Rat for President. Jim and Angelina steal a spaceship by pretending to be a doctor/nurse tracking down a rare disease that makes the victim act like a dog. Sure enough one of the crew starts growling and barking...because Angelina drugged him with the throat swab used to test him. This gives them an excuse to quarantine the rest.
- Neela: Victory Song (part of the Girls of Many Lands from the American Girls Collection): The train Neela, her father, and a resistance fighter friend of hers are riding comes to a stop because British law enforcement wants to search it. She remembers the makeup kit she was given earlier and uses it to cover her father's face and one of his hands with fake smallpox sores. The officers panic and dump all three of them in the middle of the countryside, allowing them to escape.
- In Edward Ormondroyd's Time at the Top Susan pretends to be a maidservant and implies that Victoria's mother has smallpox to determine whether an Abhorrent Admirer is after the mother's money. Upon hearing the details, he rushes off in a panic.
- In one Babylon 5 episode, Lennier claims to have "Netter's Syndrome" (a Shout-Out to executive producer Doug Netter) to drive away an obnoxious pest.
- Taken a step further in Farscape. The team needed a base they'd infiltrated quarantined, so Rygel pretended to have Hynerian Dermaphollica, an actual disease of his species. Unfortunately, the guards decided to lift the quarantine early due to Rygel's lack of symptoms, so to buy the time they needed, they used a drug to reawaken a latent Dermaphollica infection he'd actually had since childhood. The rest of the crew was understandably freaked out, since active Dermaphollica was lethal to all but one of them.
- In the M*A*S*H episode, "Welcome To Korea", Hawkeye and Radar used this to avoid a checkpoint.
- In Robin Hood, Allan a'Dale pretended to have "Turk flu" to scare off mine guards.
- Star Trek: Enterprise. In "Judgement" Dr Phlox is able to get some private conversation time with Captain Archer by telling his Klingon guard that Archer has got a contagious disease. As dying from disease would be spectacularly dishonourable for this Proud Warrior Race, the guard quickly makes himself scarce.
- In Sharpe, it's used in the process of infiltrating an enemy fort. The youngest member of the Chosen Men is put on a stretcher and carried in groaning, with the resident French-speaker shouting about cholera...
- In one flashback episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson claims that there's a possibly uncontained and contagious bioweapon in a warehouse that some SHIELD agents are being held in so that the local authorities will stay back while May attempts a rescue. He's unintentionally correct - the person holding the agents hostage is an insane Inhuman girl who can take control of people with a touch. May is forced to kill her to rescue the agents, traumatizing her for years.
- In the Corner Gas episode "Contagious Fortune", Hank refuses to hang out at the gas station because he's afraid of catching pinkeye from Wanda. When Wanda tells him her pinkeye has cleared up, he says, "I guess I can hang out here then." Wanda never really enjoys him hanging around the gas station, so she tries to get rid of him by claiming that she now has "a bad case of tubercu-leprosy."
- The Barrier: Though is doesn't work, some characters try leave the enclave for the elites incognito by posing as an ambulance transporting a noravirus patient. They are implied to have been hoping the guard at the checkpoint would be too scared to catch it to check the back, where a perfectly healthy member of the group was posing as the patient.
- In Alice: Madness Returns, the protagonist is 'invited' by a man to spend some time together, to which she responds that the doctor says she has a "terrible disease". He leaves her alone.
- In one scene of A Way Out, the two protagonists are in a hospital elevator with a security guard who's suspicious of them as they're in wanted posters. Choosing to let Vincent handle the situation lets him feign illness to scare the guard away.
- In Fallout 2, you can convince a Vault City administrator to release one of their indentured servants (slaves in all but name, because Vault City is civilized) by convincing them that the man has "[playername]'s Disease". Symptoms apparently include being disrespectful to authority and unwilling to work. If they buy it, they'll have the man released as quickly as possible, before he infects anyone else.
- Fallout: New Vegas lets you buy the freedom of a family of slaves (mother, teen son and teen daughter). You can pass a speech check to get a bargain, invoking this trope. The speech check failure has you invoking "Vagina Dentata" which doesn't fool the slaver one bit.
- Dragon Age: Origins has a variant. If the Grey Warden is captured rescuing Queen Anora and Lileana and Morrigan are selected to rescue them, they disguise themselves as Chantry Sisters (priests) and claim that they've come to pray for the souls of the prisoners. When the guards balk at letting them in, they fall to their knees and begin loudly praying about all the horrible diseases that they hope the Maker won't inflict upon the guards for obstructing their holy duty. They're quickly let through.
- In Tales from the Borderlands Fiona and her sister Sasha are trying to swindle August with a fake Vault Key, but the paint is still wet on the "key" when August wants to touch the thing. If Fiona stops him from touching it, she can claim she stopped him because it's dangerous. Sasha backs her up by claiming Fiona kept August from catching Eridium poisoning.
- The Order of the Stick uses the vaporizing flu in this comic. One of the guards asks if it's contagious, and Elan says, "Yes, but oddly enough only if you stand around in places where a previous victim has died and ask questions."
- Subverted in Penny Arcade: Gabe's ploy of telling his wife he has "Fisherman's Mouth" fails, since she's already had it once, and is now immune (or rather, Tycho tipped her off that it was a fake disease).
- In True Magic, the villagers spot themselves with jam and put up a sign saying, "Visitors Beware: Peasant Pox, Highly Contagious" to keep the nobles away after the heroes leave.
- In Knights of Buena Vista, a lady asks Adriana, whose Player Character had just been crowned queen, to kiss her baby. Adriana says she think she's coming down with something, as she's trying to get through the crowd before her dangerous secret is found out.
- Critical Role: Caleb tries to deter a bandit ambush with a surreptitious Charm Person spell and a claim of "extreme syphilis", and the party maintains the gag well after the ruse falls apart. The bandits initially try to rob the party's cart instead of their persons, and...
Jester: Oh no, that's where we got our syphilis from!
Beau: Yeah, look out for that manticore head. They're diseased.
Bandit: [finding the head] Jesus Chri—
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has pentapox, which was actually sucker marks left by a small sewer-dwelling cephalopod called a purple pentapus. It not only scared away a single guard, but allowed for a mass evacuation of an enemy-occupied city later in the episode.
- Futurama had "talking hump syndrome" when a person disguised as a hump started talking. It worked anyway. ("Ah, THS.")
- In one episode of Gummi Bears, Cubbi and Gusto are captured by Toadwart and the Ogres. They get the idea to paint spots all over themselves and tell the Ogres they have "Gummioleosis, and it's highly contagious". After they convince the Ogres that they've caught it as well, they give the Ogres a "cure" which involves taking three baths a day (anathema to the Ogres in and of itself) and that they must scrub the spots with "one small Ogre"...of course, the diminutive Toadwart realizes he fits the bill just as he reads these last words, and the Ogres run off chasing him.
- In the classic Looney Tunes short "Hare Tonic", Bugs Bunny manages to convince Elmer Fudd that he has the highly contagious disease "rabbititis". Different from some of the other examples as Bugs has already escaped from Fudd, but pulls the rabbititis prank just to mess with Elmer's head.
- In an episode of Master Raindrop, someone pretends the elements are his bodyguards and claims they're sick and the villains might catch the germs to invent them looking into their faces and recognizing them.
- In the What's with Andy? episode "Emergency Spew Relish", Andy and Danny are trying to clear everyone off a train car and Andy tells one man that he has "rhino-googly-osis", which works.
- Insanity was believed to be contagious during the Middle Ages. This belief was exploited by the population of one English town who, not desiring to have the King's procession pass through (as that would result in inevitable expenses and taxation), feigned madness en masse. Seeing an entire town full of crazy people succeeded in causing the King to keep away.
- During the Holocaust, Dr. Eugene Lazowski managed to save 8,000 Jews and other people by injecting killed bacteria that tested positive for Typhus into them. Using the bacteria, he caused a fake Typhus epidemic. The Nazis left the "infected" people alone because they were afraid of catching the disease.
- The WW2 German commerce raider Atlantis would run up the quarantine flag to discourage anyone taking a close look at their vessel which was disguised as one from a neutral or Allied country.
- The Eastern and Western Hognose snakes have a dramatic 'play dead' routine involving rolling over, soiling themselves, and if possible, popping a blood vessel in the mouth. Herpetologists speculate that the purpose may be to convince predators that they're foul or diseased and not safe to eat.