The rising threat of infections has become of great concern in recent years. While the risk related to “traditional infections” has often been reduced by vaccination and antibiotics, emerging infectious diseases are popping up to remind us how vulnerable we really are.
Not only are new “bugs” appearing, but some of the “old bugs” are getting smarter. Your skin acts as a natural barrier against harmful microbes that cause infections, but “smart bugs” have found alternative routes to get into your body and cause infection. Smart bugs have also learned how to produce compounds which can make many—and sometimes all—of our current antibiotics ineffective. You may wish to learn about the rise of these super bugs.
While both wizened old and emerging infections can frighten the most stoic individual, we are not without measures to fight back. We can easily prevent the spread of many infectious diseases.
Some of these tips may seem obvious, but others may surprise you.
Wash Your Hands Often
This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet. It depends on the microbe and the environment. Some can live for short periods only; others can live for long periods. Imagine these disease-causing microbes living on your computer keyboard, your light-switch, or even on the pedestrian crossing button next to the crosswalk. Take a moment to learn how to wash your hands the way that physicians are taught.
Don’t Share Personal Items
Use your own toothbrush, comb or razor blade. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils. All these can be sources of infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, and fungi). In kindergarten, you were taught to share your toys, but keep your hands to yourself.
Immunization can drastically reduce your chances of contracting many diseases. Keep your recommended vaccinations up-to-date. Your immune system is designed to have a “memory” of previous infections. When your body encounters a microbe that has previously caused an infection, it enhances its production of white blood cells and antibodies to prevent infection a second time. However, by getting vaccinated, you “trick” your body into thinking that it has been infected by a particular microbe, hence enhancing its own defenses against subsequent infection.
Use Safe Cooking Practices
Food-borne illnesses frequently arise from poor food preparation and dining habits. What many people do not realize is that most cases of the “stomach flu” in adults are really food poisoning. Microbes thrive on virtually all food items, and more so on foods left at room temperature. Refrigeration slows or stops the growth of most microbes. Promptly refrigerate foods within two hours of preparation. If you’re wondering what to do at your next potluck, check out these tips for food safety at barbecues and picnics. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables, keep your countertops clean, and wash all fruits and vegetables well prior to eating.
Don’t fly when you’re ill. With so many people confined to such a small area, you may infect other passengers in the plane. And your trip won’t be comfortable, either. Depending on where your travels take you, talk to your doctor about any special immunizations you may need.
Practice Safe S*x
Sexually-transmitted diseases are probably the most easily preventable infectious diseases. By being smart about safe sex (using condoms), transfer of infectious bacteria or viruses from one person to another can be prevented. It’s not a just infectious disease, or even pregnancy that can be a problem. In the United States, it’s thought that 10 percent of cancers are related to infections and worldwide the number is 25 percent—most of these sexually transmitted.
Don’t Pick Your Nose (Or Your Mouth or Eyes, Either)
Not only is it a social taboo, but picking your nose leads to the spread of a number of infections. Look around, and you’ll notice how many people have their hands next to their faces. Many microbes prefer the warm, moist environment inside your nose, as well as other mucous-covered surfaces such as your eyes and mouth. Infections can be easily prevented by avoiding touching of these areas.
Exercise Caution with Animals
Infections that can spread from animals to people are called “zoonotic diseases” and are more common than most people realize. If you have pets, make sure they get regular check-ups and that their vaccinations are up-to-date. Make the area around your home unfriendly to rodents and other mammals by eliminating areas where they could hide or build nests, using rodent-proof trash cans that contain food waste and sealing up holes that offer easy and attractive access to animals. Teach small children in your household to be cautious when encountering wild animals.
Use antibiotics sensibly.
Take antibiotics only when prescribed. Unless otherwise directed, or unless you are allergic to them, take all prescribed doses of your antibiotic, even if you begin to feel better before you have completed the medication.
Disinfect the ‘hot zones’ in your residence.
These include the kitchen and bathroom — two rooms that can have a high concentration of bacteria and other infectious agents.