Ebola. Influenza. Salmonella. Giardia.
Nasty stuff, all of them.
While the common term for all of these is ‘germs’, in fact they’re different types of microbes that have the ability to do the human body some damage. Each and every one of them can – and has – taken human life. Numbers vary wildly, but it’s safe to say several thousand people die each year from the flu alone.
Children and the elderly – including a good chunk of Baby Boomers – are most at risk due to under-developed or weakened immune systems.
We talk a lot here about independence and how it takes personal effort on the part of each individual. Keeping yourself healthy has got to be at the top of the list when it comes to things to practice. Without your health, you become dependent upon someone else to care for you.
Before we discuss prevention, we need to understand transmission. In medical-speak, it’s called the vector. How do the germs spread?
The state of Minnesota has been kind enough to give us the 5 vectors –
- Nose, mouth, or eyes to hands to others
- Hands to food
- Food to hands to food
- Infected child to hands to other children (a parent helping a sick child, passes germs on to another child)
- Animals to people
Click here to get your own copy (PDF) of how the germs are spread.
OK, we now know how they’re spread, so how do we stop them?
1. Wash your hands
I know it seems like common sense… and it is. According to the Centers for Disease Control, regular, thorough washing of your hands is one of the best ways to stop the transmission of germs.
2. Safe food handling
From storage to cooking, and left overs to re-freezing, how your food is handled can have a significant impact on whether you become ill or not.
The USDA has some great information on all of these topics, and an excellent Cold Storage chart to let you know how long virtually any food can be safely refrigerated and frozen.
3. Don’t pick your nose (seriously!)
The hairs in your nose are there to catch flying debris before it enters your sinus’ and lungs. Also, your nose is warm and moist – a perfect breeding ground for microbes to grow.
Blow your nose, don’t pick it!
Plus, it’s disgusting!
4. Have safe sex
We all already know this, having gone through the AIDS epidemic during our Boomer youth. Don’t drop your guard now that there are drugs to help keep you alive. Remember independence.
To prevent getting a sexually transmitted disease, or STD, always avoid sex with anyone who has genital sores, a rash, discharge, or other symptoms. The only time unprotected sex is safe is if you and your partner have sex only with each other, and if it’s been at least six months since you each tested negative for STDs. Otherwise you should:
>> Use latex condoms every time you have sex. If you use a lubricant, make sure it’s water-based. Use condoms for the entire sex act. Condoms are not 100% effective at preventing disease or pregnancy. However, they are extremely effective if used properly. Learn how to use condoms correctly.
>> Avoid sharing towels or underclothing.
>> Wash before and after intercourse.
>> Get a vaccination for hepatitis B. This is a series of three shots.
>> Get tested for HIV.
>> If you have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse, get help. People who are drunk or on drugs often fail to have safe sex.
>> Consider that not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
5. Be careful around animals
Avian flu. Swine flu. Hantavirus. These all occur because of contact with animals.
You also need to think about your dogs and cats. Yeah, fluffy and fido. How do they clean themselves? More to the point, what parts do they clean? Do you still want a sloppy kiss from that cute little face?!
Here’s some info on the Avian (or bird) flu from the Mayo Clinic. We seemed to have dodged a bullet with this one, but the whole, “microbe mutates from animal to human” is still VERY real.
6. Clean environmental surfaces
Seriously, don’t be such a slob. It may help to keep you healthy.
While hand washing is important in reducing the transmission of cold and flu viruses, the hands may quickly become contaminated again if the surrounding environment is contaminated. Because of this, disinfection of environmental surfaces such as worktops and desktops is a useful measure to further reduce the spread of viruses. One study found that both disinfectant spray and bleach could reduce a virus’s ability to cause infection by almost 100 per cent.
It is VERY important to clean knives and cutting boards when going between raw meat and vegetables. Don’t cross-contaminate!
7. Barrier methods
The use of barrier methods such as masks can help to prevent transmission during epidemics. In fact, one study suggested that the use of face masks could reduce the daily risk of getting a respiratory infection by 60-80 per cent.
We’re big believers in the power of barriers, particularly for air-borne toxins – which includes the flu virus. We’re such big believers, we already did a post on it!
Yep, quarantine. Keep people away, and the disease can’t spread.
This doesn’t have to be solitary confinement with 24/7 guards! It can be as simple as asking people who are likely to have an infection to remain at home rather than going to school or work.
But, as we’ve seen with the recent Ebola victims that were flown from Africa back to the US, sometimes hyper-secure quarantines are the proper approach. When a microbe can turn your insides into goo, you go the extra mile.
You may have noticed that I didn’t include vaccines. I did this on purpose as I am personally torn on the subject.
There is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of these simple physical interventions – personal hygiene, barriers and distancing – in helping to prevent the spread of germs. In contrast, there is actually less evidence for the efficacy of vaccines and antiviral drugs. This is partly because vaccines target only influenza, which is responsible for only a small proportion of all respiratory infections.
Make your own choice after you’ve gotten fully educated on the subject.