Prevention – it’s in your hands

Identifying germs and the spread of communicable disease.

To understand the realm of infectious and contagious communicable diseases we first need to define some common terms. According to Webster’s the word prevention (pre·ven·tion) is defined as:

 “The act or practice of stopping something bad from happening; the act of preventing something.”

If we think about prevention as being multi-dimensional with layers and layers from simple to complex preventatives we quickly recognize that most of us already perform prevention somewhat automatically. For instance:

  • Using hot, soapy water daily to sanitize kitchens, cooking areas and utensils
  • Getting immunizations for ourselves and our pets
  • Using sunscreen
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before we eat or cook with them

Prevention must be practiced everywhere, our homes whether that be suburbs, local farms or large cities, and also in the workplace. No matter where prevention starts and stops in the cycle of infectious disease, learning to be more aware is taking the first step.

It all starts with a germ

There are four main kinds of germs:

  1. Bacteria – one-celled germs that quickly multiply and may release chemicals which can make you sick
  2. Viruses – capsules that contain genetic material and use your own cells to multiply
  3. Fungi – primitive plants, like mushrooms or mildew
  4. Protozoa – one-celled animals that use other living things for food and a place to live

What’s the difference between infectious and contagious?

Infectious – According to the National Institutes on Health, infectious diseases (also called communicable disease) kill more people worldwide than any other single cause. Infectious diseases are caused by germs.

  • Germs are tiny living things that are found everywhere – in the air, soil and water.
  • You can get infected by touching, eating, drinking or breathing something that contains a germ.
  • Germs can also spread through animal and insect bites, kissing and sexual contact.
  • Vaccines, proper hand washing and medicines can help prevent most infections.

Common symptoms of infectious disease, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches

Contagious –Infectious diseases that spread from person to person are said to be contagious. Contagious disease (such as the flu, colds or strep throat) spreads from person to person.

  • Passes from one person or animal to another by touching
  • A sickness that can be passed to someone else by touching
  • It is capable of being easily spread to others; causing other people to feel or act a similar way

Actions of Prevention

 Mayo Clinic suggests:

  • Avoid contact with the viruses. Don't go to work if you are vomiting, have diarrhea or are running a fever. Don't send your child to school if he or she has these signs and symptoms, either.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water aren't available.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Don't share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils.
  • Travel wisely.

For more on chronic disease and prevention download Michigan State University Extension’s disease prevention and management brochure.

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