Keeping Catchy Infections Contained

Stomach flu. Chickenpox. Pinkeye. Strep throat. These bugs spread fast. You can catch some of them, like the flu, from a person who doesn’t have symptoms yet.

Sickness spreads in many ways. You can breathe in germs when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes. You get some diseases, like chickenpox or pinkeye, if you touch a person who has it. And you can catch others, like hepatitis B, by having sex with an infected person or by coming in contact with their blood.

Germs are everywhere. Follow these five easy steps to help keep your family clear from catchy infections.

Get Your Shots

You don’t have to get sick. There’s a vaccine for many common contagious diseases.

Make sure your family is up to date on their vaccinations. That includes adults, who should get a tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster vaccine (also called Tdap) if they haven’t had one yet. Then they should get a diphtheria/tetanus, or Td, booster every 10 years. People over 60 should get a shot to prevent shingles. People 65 and over need to get two pneumonia shots. And most everyone over 6 months old should get a yearly flu vaccine. Adults may also need any vaccinations that they didn't get as children.

Remember, more shots means fewer chances for disease to spread.

Wash Your Hands

The CDC calls hand washing a “do-it-yourself vaccine.” It’s one of the easiest things you can do to stop germs in their tracks. Follow these steps to make sure:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).
  • Use soap. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds - about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry.

Don’t have soap and water? Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • Before and after you care for a sick person
  • Before and after you treat a cut or wound
  • After you use the bathroom
  • After you change a child’s diaper or clean up after a child who’s used the bathroom
  • After you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
  • After you touch an animal or its waste
  • After you feed your pet
  • After you touch garbage

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Disinfect High-Touch Areas

Germs can linger on hard surfaces for hours or days. That’s why it’s important to keep places like counters, sinks, and faucets clean. You’ll also want to wipe down phones, remotes, doorknobs, and light switches often.

Cover Your Mouth

Keep your germs to yourself. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have one, use the inside of your elbow.

Don’t Share

Don’t eat or drink after anyone, even family. Don’t use each other’s lip balm or utensils. One of the fastest ways for germs to spread from person to person is by mouth.

We can’t promise you’ll never get sick, but follow these basic tips and your odds of catching -- or spreading -- illness will go way down.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 29, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “How Flu Spreads.”

Delaware Health and Social Services: “Direct and Indirect Disease Transmission.”

Government of South Australia: “Ways Infectious Diseases Spread.”

CDC: “Adult Vaccination.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule, by Vaccine and Age Group.”

CDC: “Immunization Schedules.”

CDC: “Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.”

Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital: “Don’t Let Cold and Flu Get You Down: Tips for Preventing the Spread of Germs.”

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