Alaska Regional Hospital - September 16, 2019

You may not see them, but germs are everywhere. They’re on your skin, inside your body and all around you. From the minute you wake up in the morning until you fall back into bed at night, you’ll likely encounter billions of microorganisms throughout your day.

Before you break out the hazmat suit, it’s important to understand that not all of the germs you’re exposed to on a daily basis are harmful.

While exposure to germs throughout your day is inevitable, there are certain common pathogens that could make you sick. It’s a good idea to be mindful about these germs and try to avoid them as best you can.

Once your day begins, there are many ways you can be proactive and help reduce your risk of infection, including:

Keep your hands clean

Some germs can survive on surfaces for hours. Respiratory viruses contained in droplets from coughs or sneezes can land on commonly-used objects, desks and countertops. Touching contaminated surfaces — like doorknobs, light switches, ATM machines, elevator buttons and other everyday items — then rubbing your eyes or touching your nose or mouth can lead to infection.

Viruses and bacteria can also spread through direct contact, including shaking hands, hugging or kissing.

Washing your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against respiratory and foodborne illnesses as well as infections that cause vomiting and diarrhea.

A good alternative if you do not have access to soap and water is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Choose a hand sanitizer than contains at least 60 percent alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Before applying the liquid or gel, remove as much dirt or debris from your hands as possible. Read the product label for instructions and apply as much as directed to ensure its effectiveness. Then, rub the sanitizer over all surfaces of your hands until they are dry.

Be sure that your hands are clean before eating or touching your eyes, mouth or nose, after using the bathroom and while working in the kitchen. Don’t assume that just because you’re at home you can let your guard down.

Keep your distance

Someone with the flu can spread the virus to others who are standing up to six feet away. Other viruses that cause the common cold, measles and pertussis (whooping cough) can also spread through the air via droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people. If you inhale these contaminated droplets, you could also become infected. Play it safe and keep some distance between you and anyone who is or appears to be sick.

Don’t share your stuff (or borrow from others)

You may be more mindful about germs in restrooms and public places but become relatively lax when you’re around friends and coworkers. Sharing or exchanging personal items, such as towels, razors, lipstick and water bottles, can spread infection. Don’t use someone else’s utensils or drink from another person’s glass.

Disinfect common surfaces routinely

Similarly, it’s important to be vigilant about germs at home, routinely cleaning your bathroom and kitchen countertops. And when you’re at the grocery store, give the shopping cart handle a rub with a disinfecting wipe to reduce your exposure to harmful bacteria.

If you work in an office, it’s a good idea to clean your keyboard, desktop and other surfaces you touch on a regular basis. Keep your work area stocked with tissues, soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes.

Keep cuts and scrapes clean

If you have an open wound, such as a cut, scrape or burn, it’s important to keep it clean and covered, particularly when you’re in a crowded or communal setting, such as a gym or pool. You may be exposed to bacteria, like staph or MRSA, by touching contaminated surfaces or through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Don’t go barefoot

If you plan to use a public or semi-public shower, either at school, the gym or at work, don’t forget to bring flip-flops or water shoes.

Going barefoot could also increase your risk for plantar warts, which are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. The virus can enter your body through tiny cuts, scrapes or other wounds on the bottom of your feet.

Be cautious about buffets and communal food trays

Despite calls for people to wash their hands often, some may simply forget.

If you’re eating out at a buffet or salad bar, make sure the foods that should be cold are chilled and the hot foods are steaming, which could help you avoid food-borne illnesses. It’s also wise to avoid eating perishable foods that have been sitting out at work or a party for more than two hours without refrigeration.

Clean or replace your toothbrush

Toothbrushes can harbor bacteria and other germs, particularly if they are stored in a container. Toothbrushes that are leaning against others can also become contaminated.

After brushing, allow your toothbrush to air dry in an upright position — preferably several feet away from the toilet and sink. It’s best to replace toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months.

Boost your immune system and vaccinate

Aside from doing what you can to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong, such as getting quality sleep, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, the most important way to avoid many risky infections, including measles, flu, pertussis, hepatitis and varicella (chicken pox), is to be fully vaccinated against them.

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