How to Prevent the Risk of Infectious Diseases


There are several practical ways to keep yourself healthy and free of infection. In the age of COVID-19, this has become especially important given that many traditional infections are becoming multidrug-resistant, and emerging infectious diseases are challenging researchers and public health officials faced with the prospect of an epidemic or pandemic.


There are even reports about superbugs that have become resistant to all traditional antibiotics as they are spread from individual to individual, picking up drug-resistant mutations along the way. These include deadly strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Enterobacteriaceae (a.k.a. the “nightmare bacteria”).

There are even concerns that COVID-19’s dreaded cousin, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS), may one day become more virulent and trigger another pandemic.

Despite these scenarios, there are several simple yet effective ways to reduce your risk of transmittable infections no matter the type. Here are 10 to add to your personal preventive practices.

Wash Your Hands

Many people do not realize that microbes can live on surfaces anywhere from a few minutes to several months, depending on the environment and pathogen type. This means that some viruses and bacteria may be able to persist on surfaces you touch regularly, such as your computer keyboard, light switch, or a doorknob.

Hand-to-face and hand-to-mouth transmission are among the most common ways that infectious diseases are spread. To avoid those, routine hand washing is recommended to limit the exposure of the pathogen to your mouth, eyes, or nose.

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands thoroughly and vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”—followed by hand drying with a clean towel or air drying.

In the absence of water and soap, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipe will suffice.

It is also important to avoid picking your nose or biting your nails, especially if your hands are unwashed. Teach your kids to do the same.

Avoid Sharing Personal Items

Toothbrushes, towels, razors, handkerchiefs, and nail clippers can all be sources of infectious pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. These objects are referred to as fomites (a term used to describe objects or materials that are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, or furniture).

While many pathogens have a low risk of transmission on fomites, there are some that are potentially spread this way. These include:

It is important to teach your kids not to put toys and objects in their mouths and to avoid doing so yourself (e.g., chewing on a pencil).

Cover Your Mouth

Good hygiene includes not only personal cleanliness but also the age-old practice of covering your mouth whenever you cough or sneeze.

Many respiratory infections are spread by droplets that fall to the ground quickly but can infect persons that are nearby. Others cause airborne transmission in which tiny aerosolized particles can travel for longer distances to infect others.

The risk is greater with upper respiratory tract infection in which the viral or bacterial particles mainly reside in the nose and throat. But even lower respiratory tract infections like tuberculosis can be effectively spread when a person coughs.

To prevent the spread of respiratory infections, the CDC recommends that you cover your mouth with your arm, sleeve, or the crook of the elbow rather than using your bare hands.

Get Vaccinated

Your immune system is designed to have a “memory” of previous infections, enabling a rapid response (in the form of antibodies, B-cells, and T-cells) should the pathogen ever return.

Vaccination does more or less the same thing, exposing the body to a weakened or killed form of the pathogen so that the same defensive cells are produced.

Getting the immunizations you need will protect you and those around you from infection and illness. This is a recommend schedule for children as well as a list of recommended vaccines and booster shots for adults (including the annual flu shot).

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Wear a Face Mask

Face masks became a part of people’s everyday lives with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the benefits of the practice is that it not only helped slow the spread of the coronavirus but also led to a steep reduction in influenza cases during the 2020-2021 flu season.

Face masks not only help you avoid getting an infectious respiratory disease but prevent you from infecting others should you be infected. As such, the practice of wearing a face mask should be adhered to in any situation when you have respiratory symptoms and are unable to quarantine yourself.

How to Choose a Face Mask

The CDC recommends that you find a face mask that:

  • Has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face without gaps

Practice Food Safety

Foodborne illnesses frequently arise from poor food preparation. This includes gastroenteritis (a.k.a. “stomach flu”), a viral disease primarily transmitted through contaminated food or water. This also includes food poisoning, which is caused by any one of more than 250 possible contaminants (including bacteria, viruses, parasite, toxins, and chemicals).

Microbes thrive on virtually all food items, particularly foods left at room temperature. Prompt refrigeration within two hours of food preparation can usually slow or stop the growth of most microbes.

In addition, using separate cutting boards—one for raw meats and the other for produce—can prevent cross-contamination. Be sure to keep your countertops immaculately clean, wash your hands frequently, and wash all raw fruits and vegetables prior to eating.

If you have a compromised immune system, you may need to go one step further by cooking meats well done and peeling or scraping all vegetables and fruits. This precaution may also extend to pregnant women, the elderly, and young children who are at greater risk of harm from food poisoning.

Travel Safe

Infectious diseases can easily be picked up while traveling, particularly when traveling to resource-limited countries. There are things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Be careful about water: If the water quality at your destination is questionable, use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. You may also need to avoid ice cubes, which may be contaminated.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat or fish: Eat foods that have been cooked. Even if a fish has been “freshly caught” and looks ideal for ceviche, there’s a chance of contamination during preparation.
  • Avoid raw vegetables and fruits: When you do eat fruits, choose those that can be peeled, but make sure the peel does not come into contact with the rest of the fruit during peeling.

Finally, be sure you are up-to-date on all immunizations recommended or advised for people traveling internationally. You can reference these by accessing the CDC’s Travelers’ Health webpage; just choose the country you are headed to to get a complete list with details.

The CDC’s website also offers up-to-the-minute travel notices about outbreaks and other health concerns (both domestic and international), as well as advisories about outbreaks of food-borne infections.

If you are immunocompromised, speak with your healthcare provider before traveling as certain vaccines (like the yellow fever vaccine) may be contraindicated for use.

Practice Safe Sex

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are probably the most easily preventable infectious diseases of all. By using condoms consistently and limiting your number of sex partners, you can greatly reduce your risk of infection (or infecting others).

In addition to these safer sex practices, there is a drug therapy called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that can reduce your risk of getting HIV by around 90%.

STDs and pregnancy are not the only conditions associated with unprotected sex. It is thought that about 16% of cancers are related to viral infections, including sexually transmitted ones like human papillomavirus (HPV).

Avoid Animal-Borne Diseases

Infections that can spread from animals to people, called zoonotic diseases, are more common than some may realize. If you have pets, make sure they get regular check-ups and that their vaccinations are up to date.

Clean litter boxes frequently and keep small children away from animal feces. If you are pregnant or immunocompromised, have someone else take care of the litter box as cat feces are often the source of toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus (CMV).

Wild animals also pose risks, including rabies, bird flu, and flea- or tick-borne illness like Lyme disease. To better prevent these, make your home “unfriendly” to rodents by eliminating areas where they could hide or build nests.

Use animal-proof trash cans to avoid attracting wildlife, and teach small children that wild animals should never be approached or touched.

Take Care in Hospitals

Hospital-acquired infections, known as nosocomial infections, are a significant cause of illness and death in the United States and around the world. Because they house people with numerous diseases and infections, hospitals can become breeding grounds for infections, including hard-to-treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Hospital Safety Tips

To reduce your risk of hospital-acquired infections:

  • Check hospital rating sites (such as the Leapfrog Hospital Survey) to find those with the best cleanliness and safety standards.
  • See if you can get a private room.
  • Bring antiseptic wipes or handwash (or ask the hospital to provide them for you).
  • Bring a germ-filtering mask if you are in a semi-private room or ward.
  • Never go barefoot in the hospital.

These preventive practices should extend to outpatient facilities as well, particularly if you may be immunosuppressed. This includes chemotherapy infusion centers and dialysis centers.

A Word From Get Meds Info

Another way to prevent infection is to live a lifestyle that keeps you healthy: Eat a healthful diet, get routine exercise, and engage in stress reduction. With this in place, your immune system may be better able to defend against some mild community-spread infections.

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