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An Ounce Of Prevention: Keep The Germs Away

Being sick costs you a lot:

  • It costs you a lot of time: Each year Americans are sick more than 4 billion days.
  • It costs you a lot of money: They spend almost $950 billion on direct medical costs.
  • But the biggest cost of all is the cost of a life: Over 160,000 die due to infectious diseases as the underlying cause of death.

Being sick does cost too much. Especially since there are some steps you can take to prevent getting sick in the first place.

Scientists at the CDC have identified some simple things you and your family can do to prevent getting infectious diseases. But first, you may be wondering, what are infectious diseases?

Well, they are diseases caused by various types of microscopic germs such as

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites
  • Fungi.

These germs cause illnesses that range from common ailments like a cold and the flu; to disabling conditions such as Lyme disease and polio; to deadly diseases like Hantavirus and AIDS. The bad news is that some of these diseases can be quite serious.

The good news is that many of those diseases can be prevented through amazingly simple and extremely inexpensive methods. Many of these methods are not new. And many were taught to us by our parents. But we get in a hurry and get out of the habit of practicing these simple but important prevention steps.

The most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands.

By frequently washing your hands you wash away germs that you have picked up from other people, or from contaminated surfaces, or from animals and animal waste.

What happens if you do not wash your hands frequently? You pick up germs from other sources and then you infect yourself when you:

  • Touch your eyes
  • Or your nose
  • Or your mouth.

One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus.

You can also spread germs directly to others or onto surfaces that other people touch. And before you know it, everybody around you is getting sick.

The important thing to remember is that, in addition to colds, some pretty serious diseases — like hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea — can easily be prevented if people make a habit of washing their hands.

When should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands often. Probably more often than you do now because you can’t see germs with the naked eye or smell them, so you do not really know where they are hiding.

It is especially important to wash your hands

  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat, and after you use the bathroom
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • When your hands are dirty, and
  • More frequently when someone in your home is sick.

What is the correct way to wash your hands?

  • First wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain.
  • Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue for 10 - 15 seconds or about the length of a little tune. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands.

It is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom. So these tips are also important when you are out in public.

Washing your hands regularly can certainly save a lot on medical bills. Because it costs less than a penny, you could say that this penny’s worth of prevention can save you a $50 visit to the doctor.

Another way to help you keep the germs away is to routinely clean and disinfect surfaces.

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning and disinfecting are not the same thing. In most cases, cleaning with soap and water is adequate. It removes dirt and most of the germs. However, in other situations disinfecting provides an extra margin of safety.

You should disinfect areas where there are both high concentrations of dangerous germs and a possibility that they will be spread to others. That is because disinfectants, including solutions of household bleach, have ingredients that destroy bacteria and other germs. While surfaces may look clean, many infectious germs may be lurking around. Given the right conditions some germs can live on surfaces for hours and even for days.

Do you know where the “hot zones”, or the contaminated areas, are in your home?

The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places in the house because of the infectious bacteria that are sometimes found in raw food such as chicken. Also, there is a potential for germs to be spread to other people because that is where food is prepared. You cannot always tell where or when germs are hiding. When you touch a contaminated object you can contaminate other surfaces that you touch afterwards and spread the germs to others.

Another potential hot zone is the bathroom. Routinely cleaning and disinfecting the bathroom reduces odors and may help prevent the spread of germs when someone in the house has a diarrheal illness. And do not forget your child’s changing table and diaper pail.

What is the best way to routinely clean and disinfect surfaces?

  • You should follow the directions on the cleaning product labels. And be sure to read safety precautions as well.
  • If you are cleaning up body fluids such as blood, vomit, or feces, you should wear rubber gloves, particularly if you have cuts or scratches on your hands or if a family member has AIDS, Hepatitis B, or another bloodborne disease. And it is also a good idea to clean and disinfect surfaces when someone in the home is sick.
  • To begin, clean the surface thoroughly with soap and water or another cleaner
  • After cleaning, if you need to use a disinfectant, apply it to the area, and let it stand for a few minutes or longer, depending on the manufacturers recommendations. This keeps the germs in contact with the disinfectant longer.
  • Wipe the surface with paper towels that can be thrown away or cloth towels that can be washed afterwards.
  • Store cleaners and disinfectants out of the reach of children.
  • And remember, even if you use gloves, wash your hands after cleaning or disinfecting surfaces.

Almost everyone has experienced a foodborne illness at some point in time. But do we only get sick from restaurant food? No, in fact many cases of foodborne illnesses occur when food is prepared at home. If food is handled and prepared safely, most of those can be avoided. All food may contain some natural bacteria, and improper handling gives the bacteria a chance to grow. Also, food can be contaminated with bacteria from other sources that can make you ill.

Contaminated or unclean food can be very dangerous, especially to young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Each year in the United States, approximately 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die each from foodborne illness.

There are four major tips you can use to prevent contaminating food.

1. Use caution when you buy your food.

  • Buy perishable food such as meat, eggs, and milk last.
  • Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk.
  • Because eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry are most likely to contain bacteria, do not allow their juices to drip on other food.
  • Shop for groceries when you can take food home right away so that it does not spoil in a hot car.

2. Store your food properly.

  • Store eggs, raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator.
  • Use containers to prevent contaminating other foods or kitchen surfaces.
  • Your refrigerator should be set at 40° F.
  • Your freezer should be set at 0° F.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect the refrigerator and freezer.

3. Use special precautions when preparing and cooking food.

  • Wash your hands and clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces before, during and after handling, cooking, and serving food.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Defrost frozen food on a plate either in the refrigerator or in a microwave, but not on the counter.
  • Cook food immediately after defrosting.
  • Use different dishes and utensils for raw foods than you use for cooked foods.
Cooking Guidelines

Eggs

  • Cook eggs until they are firm and not runny.
  • Do not eat raw or partially cooked eggs.
  • Avoid eating other foods that include raw or partially cooked eggs.
Poultry
  • Cook poultry until it has an internal temperature of 180° F .
  • It is done when the juices run clear and it is white in the middle.
  • Never eat rare poultry.
Fish
  • Cook fish until it is opaque or white and flaky.
  • Cook ground meat to 160° F.
Meat
  • It is done when it is brown inside. This is especially critical with hamburger meat.

4. Cool and promptly store leftovers after food has been served.

  • Because harmful bacteria grow at room temperature
    keep hot food hot at 140° F or higher, and
    keep cold food cold at 40° F or cooler.
    This is especially important during picnics and buffets.
  • Do not leave perishable foods out for more than two hours.
  • Promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers or
    wrapped tightly in bags.

Basically use common sense and when in doubt, throw it out. It is much cheaper to throw out bad food than it is to pay expensive medical bills or miss work.

See also: Stopping Germs at Home, Work and School and Stopping the Spread of Germs at Work.

Used with permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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