Wash hands frequently
Did you know that microbes can live on inert surfaces anywhere from a few minutes to several months? Imagine these disease-causing microorganisms living on your computer keyboard, your light switch, or even on the elevator button! Surprisingly, most people don’t know the best way to effectively wash their hands! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing thoroughly and vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand-drying with a paper towel. In the absence of running water, an alcohol-based hand gel or wipe will suffice, although nothing beats good old soap and water.
Don’t share personal items
Toothbrushes, towels, razors, handkerchiefs, and nail clippers can all be sources of infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, and fungi). In kindergarten, you were taught to share your toys, but keep your hands to yourself. Now try to remember to keep personal items to yourself as well! Remind children often about the types of items they should NOT share with others.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
In a similar vein, good personal hygiene includes not only personal cleanliness, but also the age-old practice of covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Why is this important if you aren’t sick? For most infections, the disease-causing microbe has already started growing and dividing long before any symptoms begin to show. Coughing or sneezing can spread these germs through microscopic droplets in the air. The current recommendation is to cover your mouth with your arm, sleeve, or crook of the elbow, rather than using your hands.
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. Of course consult your clinician about receiving vaccinations, especially the annual influenza vaccination.
Use safe cooking practices
Food-borne illnesses frequently arise from poor food preparation and dining habits. 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 2 hours of preparation. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables, keep clean countertops, and wash all fruits and vegetables well prior to eating.
Be a smart traveler
Infectious diseases can easily be picked up while traveling, particularly when traveling to underdeveloped countries. If your travel destination is one where water is questionable, make sure to use a safe water source such as bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Eat foods that have been cooked, and avoid raw vegetables and fruits. Finally, be sure to update all immunizations that are advised or required for your travel destination.
Practice safe sex
Sexually-transmitted diseases are probably the most easily preventable infectious disease. By being smart about safe sex (using condoms), transfer of infectious bacteria or viruses from one person to another can be prevented.
Don’t pick your nose, mouth or eyes
Not only is it a social taboo, but it also 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.
Watch the news
A good understanding of current events can help you to make wise decisions about traveling or other recreational activities.