You are in the supermarket and a man sneezes all over the canned tomatoes you were just about to pick off of the shelf. Chances are, you will pick a different can.
Scenarios like this showcase day-to-day habits you have already established, to help protect yourself against infectious diseases. And yes, protecting yourself really can be that simple. So, take a moment to stop reading those scary news reports about the latest disease sweeping the nation, and find out how to take charge of your health with just a few simple behavioral adjustments.
Wash your Hands
I know, this seems silly, but it can’t be reiterated enough. Wash your hands. Microbes are everywhere, living on surfaces for minutes to months, depending on their lifespan and environmental conditions. They live on your cell-phone, your steering wheel, and even the crevices of the keyboard you are currently using to scroll through this page. Your first line of defense against these infectious diseases is soap and water. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, or as my mother used to say, for as long as it takes you to sing Happy Birthday. You want to be sure to wash between the fingers, and on the fronts and backs of the hands, working the soap into a lather. Afterward, pat your hands dry with a clean towel or air-dry them, for the most effective and sanitary drying method.
Keep your Hand(kerchief)s to yourself
We all know that old saying “Keep your hands to yourself.” It is a classic saying to keep children from fighting, with the added intention of preventing the spread of “germs” between children. That is common knowledge. However, the saying would do better to say “Keep your hands and personal effects to yourself.” Then it might be common knowledge that sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, towels, tweezers, and other personal items can swiftly transmit infectious diseases from person to person, as well.
Cover your Coughs and Sneezes
For most of us, this is already habitual. For those of us who it is not, here’s why you should make it a habit: Even if you are not displaying symptoms of an illness that does not necessarily mean you are not sick. The microbes of most infectious diseases begin growing and dividing hours to weeks before symptoms begin showing. When you cough or sneeze, microscopic sized droplets spray through the air, releasing these microbes onto your surroundings. Whoever comes into contact with these droplets will become infected with the disease you were carrying. You can easily prevent this from happening by covering your mouth with your arm, or the bend in your elbow. It is not recommended that you cover your coughs and sneezes with your hands, because you will then touch surfaces with your hands and continue the spread indirectly.
Get your Vaccines
Did you know that your immune system has a good memory? That’s right. Your immune system can remember a microbe that has previously caused an infection, and it begins increasing production of white blood cells and antibodies to reinforce the body against reinfection from that same microbe. Vaccinations create an illusion that a specific microbe has attacked the immune system, by introducing a small quantity of the virus’ inactive DNA. Then, if the infectious disease actually does attack your immune system, the vaccine will have already helped you build up antibodies to defend yourself more effectively.
Practice Safe Cooking
If you are an American, you likely eat an average of three meals a day. That is 21 meals a week, 84 meals a month, or 1,008 meals a year. That is 1,008 times every single year of your life that you risk contracting a food-borne illness. Microbes live on everything. This includes food! That is why it is so important that you use safe food prep and dining habits. Microbes thrive most on food that has been left to sit and become room temperature. However, the cold temperatures from refrigerating and freezing your food can slow or stop the growth of these microbes, so try to get your food put away within a couple of hours. Additionally, remember to always wash your fruits and vegetables, disinfect your countertops with alcohol-based cleaners, and cook your foods all the way through before consumption.
Who doesn’t love to get away for a while and see something new? But when you imagine that dream vacation, are you doing it safely? That is not often a top-priority calculation for travellers, but it should be. Infectious diseases are an imminent threat, from the circulated air and close proximity seats on airplanes to unfamiliar microbes found in foreign environments. When you enter a new country or region, it is common that the water will contain microbes that foreigners have not built up resistance to, and can thus become very sick from ingesting. If you are travelling to one such region, it is important to use bottled or filtered water for drinking, brushing your teeth, and cooking. Also be sure not to use ice cubes that have been formed with local water. Similarly, you want to be careful of fruits and vegetables that may have been washed with local water. To be safe, avoid raw fruits and vegetables, and if you do eat fruits, remove the peel carefully before eating. While all of this is very important, the number one step you can take to protect yourself against infectious diseases while travelling is to update your travel immunizations, this will have the same effect as the vaccinations in tip #4.
Practice Safe Sex
Another form of infectious diseases is known as sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). The good news is these are easily preventable! Use condoms, dental dams, and finger condoms to practice safe sex. Verywellhealth.com urges readers to understand that this threat is not just about pregnancy or even infectious diseases: “It is thought that about 16 percent of cancers are related to infections worldwide – most of them sexually transmitted.”
Don’t Touch your Face
Many microbes thrive in warm, moist environments. This makes places like the inside of your nose, mouth, in and around your eyes, and in and around your ears the perfect places for infectious diseases to lurk. Avoid touching these mucous lined surfaces, and you will be one step closer to preventing infection.
Use Caution with Animals
Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases spread between animals and humans. There are two types of threat here:
o Get regular check-ups
o Ensure vaccinations are up-to-date
o Keep litter boxes clean
o Keep children away from feces and wash hands thoroughly if handling
- Wild animals:
o Teach children about the dangers of wild animals
o Make your home and the surrounding area uninhabitable to animals and insects
- Get rid of areas where they can hide or nest
- Use trash cans with lids
- Seal holes that offer access to animals
A few Special Tips for a few Special Cases
Some individuals will want to use extra caution, when it comes to preventing infectious diseases.
- Pregnant women will be more at risk of miscarrying, having a stillbirth, or having a child with birth defects, if they come into contact with many different diseases.
- Those who are hospitalized are at risk of nosocomial infections, or those acquired in a hospital. Many of these microbes are antibiotic resistant.
- People who are immunosuppressed (chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, etc.) will want to be the most cautious of all. Not only do more diseases infect these people, but they affect them much worse.
In all of these cases, while caution is necessary, the importance of the first nine tips should not be lost. If all of these tips are followed, the results should be highly effective.
It’s true, infectious diseases are something to think twice about. Think about them for your own safety, but also for the safety of others. When you follow these tips, you are committing to protect yourself, and preventing the spread of these germs. So, keep on covering your coughs, practice safe habits, think before you touch, and wash your hands.
At Children Central, we are committed to the healthy growth of families. To find out more, please visit us online or in person.