Infectious diseases spread through a variety of means. Respiratory diseases like COVID-19, influenza (flu) and the common cold spread via droplets of saliva or mucus that contain germs. An infected person expels the droplets into the air by sneezing, coughing or talking. If someone else is in close contact with the infected person and inhales these droplets, he or she also can become infected.
Germs, including respiratory viruses and gastrointestinal bacteria, can be spread by contact as well. Hands can become contaminated by touching an infected person’s skin or body fluids, or by touching a surface that contains the germs. The germs can then enter the body through the mouth, eyes or nose via contact with unwashed hands.
Many infectious diseases also can spread through contaminated food or water. However, COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory diseases cannot spread this way.
One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs is frequent, thorough hand-washing. Multiple times a day, our hands touch surfaces and objects that are also touched by many other people. Each touch is an opportunity to pick up germs and spread them to yourself and others.
To wash your hands effectively, do this:
•Wet your hands thoroughly with warm or cold water and apply soap.
•Rub your hands together to create a good lather. Scrub the palms and backs of your hands, between your fingers, around your nails, and on your wrists. Continue scrubbing for 20 seconds (you can sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice or count slowly to 20).
•Rinse thoroughly under running water. Use a clean towel or paper towel to dry your hands. Use the towel—not your freshly washed hands—to turn off the faucet.
Wash your hands frequently, especially at these times:
•After using the bathroom
•After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
•After handling pets or cleaning up after them
•Before preparing food or eating
•Before and after visiting or caring for a sick person
•Whenever your hands are visibly soiled
When soap and water are not readily available, or when your hands are not visibly soiled, you can use alcohol-based sanitizer. Make sure the sanitizer gets between your fingers, around your nails and on the backs of your hands.
Other Infection Prevention Practices
•Clean frequently touched surfaces with a disinfecting product that kills bacteria and viruses.
•Cover your cough or sneeze using a tissue. If one is not available, sneeze or cough into your bent elbow.
•When you are sick, stay home.
•Practice social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other public health officials.
•Thoroughly clean surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw meat or raw fruit or vegetables.
Although we don’t need to live in fear of the germs that surround us, it does pay to remember and regularly practice these tips for simple infection prevention and control.