Infectious diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or other organisms that enter the body through a wide range of methods. Because these diseases are often easily passed from person to person, it is relatively easy to see a large outbreak of an illness in a single community. To protect yourself from infectious disease, the “ounce of prevention” adage does hold true. With just a few steps and some healthy habits, you can keep many germs and illnesses at bay.
Preventing Infectious Diseases
1Wash your hands. Proper hand hygiene is vital when it comes to preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Pathogens (such as viruses, bacteria and fungi) are easily transferred from contaminated surfaces to your skin and from there to your eyes and mouth where they can gain access to inside your body. Thus, washing your hands is one of the first steps to take to reduce the transfer of infectious agents.
- Wash your hands every time after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, sneezing or blowing your nose and when coming into contact with bodily fluids.
- Wash your hands before and after working with food.
- When washing your hands, use soap and warm water to wet your hands up to your wrists and scrub the skin for at least 20 seconds or more.
- If water and soap is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub it from your fingertips to your wrists in order to eliminate pathogens.
2Avoid touching your face, eyes, and nose. People tend to touch their face several times throughout the day. This is when the infectious agents in your hands gain access to your body. Where an intact skin does not allow transfer of pathogens into the body, the eyes and mucous membranes in the nose and mouth do allow this.
- Besides maintaining a proper hand hygiene, try to avoid touching your face, even with clean hands.
- Avoid direct contact between the palm of your hand and face and use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- If a tissue is not available, cover your mouth or nose with your elbow. After using a tissue, discard it immediately into a proper waste receptacle and wash your hands
3Keep all immunizations up to date. Vaccines are a preventive measure that help prevent or lessen illness caused by infectious pathogens. They work by stimulating an immune response against a specific pathogenic agent and, if you are ever exposed to the pathogen, your immune system can fight it more effectively.
- Get all adult and childhood immunizations on time and keep an accurate vaccination record at home for every family member to ensure everyone remains up to date.
- Because vaccines are designed to activate your immune system to recognize specific pathogens, some vaccines may cause minor symptoms, such as fever, fatigue and muscle aches, that last a day or two.
- Some vaccinations require booster shots (such as tetanus and polio) at certain intervals to maintain immunity.
4Stay home. When you are sick with infectious disease, it is important to limit exposing other people to the pathogen and spreading the illness. Although some infectious diseases do not spread easily from person-to-person contact, others do and thus, you should stay home when you are symptomatic.
- If you are at public spaces, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow while coughing (and not with your hand) to avoid spreading pathogens airborne and transferring germs with your hands.
- Wash your hands and clean shared surfaces often if you are sick in order to minimize transmission of germs.
5Prepare and store food safely. Some pathogens can be transferred into your body via food (so called foodborne illnesses or pathogens). Once food is consumed and the pathogen gains access to your body, it can multiply and cause illness. Thus, it is vital you prepare and store all food appropriately.
- Prepare your food responsibly by limiting cross contamination. Raw food should never be prepared on the same surface as ready-made food to prevent transferring pathogens.
- Clean your work surfaces regularly and keep them clean and dry. Pathogens can thrive on wet environments.
- Wash your hands before and after handling food. You should also wash your hands when you are changing ingredients (eg, from raw food to fresh food).
- Food should be stored at safe temperatures (refrigerated if needed) and thrown out if you doubt their quality. Changes in color and texture and strange odors are signs that your food has spoiled.
- Hot food should be eaten when it is prepared and, if it needs to be stored, kept either hot (as in buffets) or refrigerated as soon as possible to keep pathogens from multiplying.
6Practice safe sex and do not share personal items. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are spread when bodily secretions come into contact with your genitals, mouth, and eyes. Practice safe sex to limit your risk of catching an STD.
- Always protect yourself by using a condom or dental dam during sexual activity, especially if you are not in a monogamous relationship.
- Do not engage in any sexual activity when you or your partner have a cold sore or genital wart breakout. This can lead to spreading incurable herpes.
- Get tested for STDs before and after engaging in sexual activities with a new partner so that you are aware of your status.
7Travel wisely. Be aware of the risks of infection that increase when you travel. Some infections may be more common in places you are traveling versus where you live.
- Talk to your doctor about important vaccinations to get when you are traveling. This allows you to build up your immunity and be more prepared to the native pathogens present at the areas where you are travelling to.
- Wash your hands frequently when you are traveling to avoid transferring germs to your body via your hands.
- Protect yourself against infections that are carrier by vectors such as mosquitos by taking precautions, such as sleeping in mosquito netting, using bug spray, and wearing long-sleeved clothing.
Understanding and Treating Infectious Diseases
1Understand different kinds of infectious diseases. You should be aware of the different agents that can spread infection. This can help you manage your risk factors.
- Bacteria are the most common infectious agents. They can be transmitted via bodily fluids and food. They are single cell living microorganisms that use your body as a home base to replicate.
- Viruses are pathogens that cannot live outside the host. When a virus enters your body, they hijack your body’s cells to multiply and spread to neighboring cells.
- Fungi are simple, plant-like living organisms that may take up residence in your body.
- Parasites are living organisms that hijack the host’s body and use their resources to thrive.
2Treat bacterial infections with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that fight off bacterial infections. They work by disabling or killing bacterial cells and thus, fastening the elimination of bacteria by your immune system.
- Use topical antibiotic ointments for small wounds that are infected. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, warmth and pain. Do not use antibiotic ointment for heavily bleeding wounds that are deep. Seek medical attention if you have a wound that does not stop bleeding.
- For systemic bacterial infections, visit your healthcare provider and ask if you should be taking oral antibiotics.
- It is important to understand that antibiotics cannot cure or treat viral infections, such as the cold or flu. Your doctor can diagnose bacterial versus viral infection and treat it appropriately.
- Take antibiotics only as directed. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them (such as when you have a viral infection) increases bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
3Treat viral infections. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics but there are some antiviral medications that can be used for certain viruses. Some viral infections are treated with at home remedies (such as rest and remaining hydrated).
- Some drugs, known as antiviral or antiretroviral drugs, can fight off certain viruses by taking away their ability to reproduce their DNA inside your cells.
- Some viral infections, such as the common cold, only need to have their symptoms treated to make you more comfortable. Your immune system can fight off the virus as long as you are not immunocompromised and get enough rest and nutrients.
- Many viral illnesses can be prevented with vaccinations. Thus, you should keep your immunizations up to date.
4Know how to treat fungal infections. Some fungal infections can be treated with medications that help eliminate the fungi and clear the infection. However, there are numerous pathogenic fungi that cause infections and only your doctor can diagnose and prescribe proper treatments.
- Some fungal infections may be treated with a topical ointment if the infected site is on your skin (such as foot fungus).
- Very serious and threatening fungal infections are treated with oral medications or injections.
- Some examples of pathogenic fungi include histoplasmosis, blastomycosis, coccidioidomycosis, and paracoccidioidomycosis, and these infections can be deadly.
5Know how to treat parasitic infections. As the name implies, parasites are organisms that “hijack” your body’s resources in order to live, grow and multiply inside you. Parasites refers to a wide array of pathogenic agents from worms to microscopic cells.
- Many parasites can be transferred into your body via contaminated food or water (such as hookworm), while others enter via broken/compromised skin (such as malaria via mosquito bite).
- You should never drink unfiltered or non-purified water from natural sources as the water may contain parasites.
- Some parasitic infections can be treated with oral or injected medications.
- Your doctor can diagnose a parasitic infection based on your symptoms and specific tests and then treat it appropriately.
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- Maintain proper hygiene and lifestyle practices to prevent infectious diseases, including washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, and keeping your immunizations up to date.
- If you suspect you have an infectious disease, consult your doctor immediately. Several pathogenic agents can cause infectious diseases and only your doctor can diagnose and treat the condition appropriately.
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