Most common infections are easily preventable if you take a few commonsense precautions. Follow these top tips to prevent an infection from ruining your summer.
1. Washing hands is still the single most-effective way to prevent infections if done before and after preparing food or eating, caring for a sick person, or treating a cut or wound. Wash hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, handling pets, taking out the garbage, doing laundry and blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing. Wash hands with soap and running water, scrubbing for 30 seconds and dry them. If using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, rub it over all hand surfaces until hands are dry, about 20 seconds.
2. Keeping shots current can prevent many serious, even life-threatening infectious diseases, such as the flu, tetanus, diphtheria, pneumonia, shingles, HPV, hepatitis A and B, and childhood diseases like mumps, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. Check with your doctor about what immunizations you need and when you need them.
3. Avoiding water-related infections is especially important in the summer when swimming and boating activities make it easier to get a recreational water illness (RWI). RWIs are caused by germs or chemicals in the water of swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks and from natural bodies of water. They are spread by swallowing or breathing contaminated water. Diarrhea, rashes, and infections of the skin, ears, eyes, and respiratory tract are the most common symptoms of water-related infections.
- Only swim in well-maintained pools and other public water recreational facilities. Ask if the pH level of the water is checked several times a day, depending on the number of people in the water.
- Showering for one minute before entering the poor or hot tub will remove most of the dirt and germs on your skin.
- Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea or an open wound.
- Never let babies in pools or hot tubs without “swim diapers” that contain pee and poop germs from getting into the water.
- Teach young children not to swallow pool water or use the pool as a bathroom. Make them exit the pool every hour or so for a bathroom break.
4. Eliminating nail fungus infections can sometimes be difficult. They cause finger or toenails to become thick, discolored (yellow, brown, or white), and fragile or cracked. Finger or toenails can become infected by many types of fungi that live in the environment. Small nail cracks or nicks in the surrounding skin allow germs to enter the nail. A fungal nail infection is often accompanied by athlete’s foot, a fungal skin infection on the foot and between the toes. Those most at risk for fungal infections include anyone with diabetes, a weakened immune system, blood circulation problems or a nail injury. To prevent these infections:
- Keep hands and feet clean and dry.
- Don’t walk barefoot in public areas like locker rooms.
- Don’t share nail clippers and, if visiting a nail salon, be sure they sterilize their instruments after each use.
5. Preventing food poisoning is easy if you remember this four-step process:
- Keep it clean by frequently washing your hands, cooking surfaces, cutting boards and utensils. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water. Don’t use soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes. Do not wash meat, poultry, or eggs because it can actually spread bacteria as juices splash and contaminate the sink and countertops.
- Separate foods to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, produce and ready-to-eat foods. Separation begins at the grocery store and continues to your refrigerator and while cooking. Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
- Cook to the right temperature. Using a food thermometer is the only way to be sure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 145° F for whole meats, 160° F for ground meats, and 165° F for all poultry and any food cooked in a microwave. Wash thermometer after each use. Keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees F.) while serving.
- Keep cold foods cold (400 F. or below) while serving. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours; one hour in the summer. Be sure your fridge maintains 400 F. and 00 F. in the freezer. Make sure air can circulate freely to chill foods faster. Never thaw frozen foods on the counter. Instead, thaw in the fridge, in cold water, in the microwave or cook without thawing by extending the cooking time. Throw out any food if you have doubts that it was not prepared, served, or stored safely. Unsafe food cannot always be identified by smell or appearance.
6. Avoiding insect bites is the best defense against problems ranging from mild itching to the potential dangers of Zika virus for unborn babies. Because few of us can identify the mosquito that carries Zika, West Nile, malaria, or other insect-borne viruses, it’s best to avoid them all. Mosquitoes need water to breed and survive. They’re particularly attracted to standing water with organic debris.
- Use a good insect repellant to keep mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas away.
- Be sure outdoor pets are on a regular schedule for flea and tick protection.
- Don’t let water accumulate in house-plant saucers or planters, old tires, buckets, wheelbarrows, wading pools, bird baths and clogged or sagging gutters. It only takes a few tablespoons of water for 7-10 days for mosquito eggs to hatch and larvae to mature.
- Correct swampy areas in your yard with fill dirt or by planting water-loving trees or shrubs.
- Avoid being outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes feed.
- Planting rose-scented geraniums, lemon balm and catnip planted near outside seating areas is effective in keeping mosquitoes away. Also, burning citronella candles or rubbing soybean oil on your skin (repels for about two hours) are other natural solutions.
- Fans are helpful because they dispel the carbon dioxide we exhale, which is how mosquitoes locate us.
- Avoid highly perfumed soaps, shampoos, cologne, or aftershave.
7. Avoiding infectious diseases means staying away from the ways they are transmitted. This includes staying home when you are ill. Infectious diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Depending on the disease, they can be passed from person to person, from insect or animals, eating contaminated food or water, or from environmental exposure. Symptoms can vary from the mild annoyance of the common cold to a life-threatening infection requiring hospitalization.
Hepatitis B and C are the most common infectious diseases in the United States and cause liver damage. Hepatitis B causes an inflammation of the liver that leads to jaundice, nausea and fatigue, and can cause long-term complications of cirrhosis or liver cancer. It is spread by sexual contact or contact with other bodily fluids, sharing drug or tattoo needles or contaminated blood. Although less common and less severe, Hepatitis C almost always develops into a chronic, non-acute condition. However, it can lead to liver disease or liver cancer over time. It is most commonly spread by blood transfusion or sharing drug needles; less commonly by sexual contact. Hepatitis A can be spread through feces-contaminated food or water.
- Avoid direct contact with an infected person, animal, and the surfaces they touch. Avoidance is especially important for people who have an immune system that isn’t working properly. This can be caused by having some types of cancer, HIV/AIDS, or are taking medications that suppress your immune system.
- Frequently wash hands and keep surfaces clean if you are around an infected person and always practice safe sex.
8. Practicing safe sex will protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually-transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, syphilis, HIV/AIDS, chlamydia and others. One in three sexually active people will have an STD by age 24. Half of the 19 million new infections each year occur among people ages 15-24. Women and the infants of infected mothers are also at high risk from the long-term damage that STDs can inflict.
- Not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
- If you are sexually active, always use a latex condom before any type of sex.
- Limit the number of partners and demand testing for STDs before beginning a sexual relationship.
- If you’ve had sex with an infected person, don’t wait for symptoms (there may not be any); get tested right away. Start treatment immediately, if needed.
9. Being aware of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) can save your life. HAIs are infections you get while being treated in a hospital or other health facility. About 100,000 Americans die from HAIs every year and they are also a significant source of medical complications. HAIs include clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a deadly diarrheal infection, and sepsis, a life-threatening condition that arises which the body tries to fight off an infection. HAIs are often associated with surgery, medical devices, catheters, and ventilators. Research has shown that some health care workers clean their hands less than half the time they should.
- Be sure all your health care providers wash their hands before they touch you, your clothing, medical equipment, or bed.
- They should also change gloves when moving from a contaminated area or open wound to a clean body site.
- You are the best defense against this type of infection. Never hesitate to remind them to prevent contamination.