Introduction

One would think that with advances in technology, we would by now pretty much eliminate human disease. However, the opposite has happened. Instead, we are increasingly encountering new emerging infectious diseases, the latest one, of course, being COVID-19. It started in 2019 and we thought that it would not last. Here we are in 2022 after more than 75 million cases and close to a million deaths in the US, wondering when will all go away. For now it seems like coronavirus like many other diseases that have become endemic, is here to stay. While elimination may be impossible, we can learn how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This article outlines some essentials that we should all practice to make sure that this happens.

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands! It sounds so simple but it is one of, if not the most important things you can do to keep from spreading germs . Hands are used to hold and touch things that have germs. We spread these germs around as we touch other people or other items that people will come in contact with. Wash your hands for at least twenty seconds – the time it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice. Make sure to scrub properly especially under nails and between fingers. When you are done, dry well using a disposable towel or air dry. After that sanitize. You would be surprised how much bacteria can still be left on your hands even after washing. Last week I ran an experiment to see how much bacteria would be left on my hand after rigorously washing for 20 seconds, followed by drying and then sanitizing. Surprisingly, the number of bacteria colonies were not much lower than before washing. Before, washing there were six colonies and after washing, there were four. Proper handwashing will reduce the risk of skin disease and foodborne infections. Common bacterial skin pathogens include Staphylococcus aureus, group A β-hemolytic streptococci, and coryneform bacteria. Herpes simplex is the most common viral skin disease, and Trichophyton rubrum the most common skin fungus. Not only should you be concerned about how to wash your hands, but also when. Download the following infographic and use it to remind you when to wash your hands.

Wear a Mask & Keep Your Distance

Its funny how the policy on mask wearing has flipped-flopped over the past two years. Major authorities went from saying it was not necessary, to being absolutely necessary in the fight against COVID. I don’t know why there would have been any time when not wearing a mask could be considered as unnecessary. Respiratory diseases are spread in the air as we exhale. When we cough or sneeze, tiny droplets of water gets aerosolized with millions of germs that others close to us can breath in. Did you know that a single “Achoo” can travel as far as 27 feet? Crazy. You better keep your distance.

Stay At Home If You Are Sick

If you have an infectious disease you will certainly have a high chance of spreading it during the time you are experiencing symptoms. Therefore quarantining at least during the time you are symptomatic is a must. The FDA Code lists a number of symptoms that must be reported by food handlers to their supervisors. These include: vomiting, infected sores, diarrhea, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or a sore throat accompanied by a fever. Working showing these symptoms must call in sick. The CDC provides clear guidelines on COVID symptoms to look for during the current pandemic. If you have these symptoms, stay home:

  1. Fever or chills
  2. Cough
  3. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  4. Fatigue
  5. Muscle or body aches
  6. Headache
  7. Loss of taste or smell
  8. Sore throat
  9. Congestion or runny nose
  10. Nausea or vomiting
  11. Diarrhea

Practice Good Personal Hygiene

I talked about handwashing already, which you will agree is part of good personal hygiene. Here are some other things you should do, and not do:

Do

  1. Take a daily bath
  2. Wear clean clothes
  3. Clean your teeth, especially before bedtime
  4. Wear clean personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling food or caring for the sick
  5. Cover your cuts and bruises

Do Not

  1. Share personal items such as clothes, hair brushes, tooth brushes, and combs.
  2. Mix dirty contaminated clothes with clean ones
  3. Reuse disposable PPEs
  4. Sneeze of cough without covering your nose

Follow Good Food Safety Practices

The CDC reports that every year about 1 in 6 or 48 million people in the US gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 people die of foodborne illnesses every year. You might be surprised that a large majority of these illnesses are contracted, not at restaurants, but at home due to poor food safety practices. Could your kitchen pass a restaurant inspection? Answer the following questions to determine how you are doing?

  1. Do you always wash your hands before you start working in the kitchen?
  2. Do you have different cutting boards for cutting up meat and vegetables?
  3. Do you have a thermometer to make sure that meats are cooked to the right temperature?
  4. Do you clean as you go to avoid cross contamination and a big clean up project after you are done cooking?
  5. Do you sanitize counter tops as part of your cleanup procedure?
  6. Do you keep left overs in the refrigerator for more than four days
  7. Do you leave out cooked foods on the stove or kitchen counter overnight?
  8. Do you keep food outside of their proper storage temperature for more four hours 4 days
  9. Do you leave dirty dishes in the sink or on the table overnight?
  10. Do you handle pets while you cook?
  11. Do you lick your fingers while cooking or serving?
  12. Do you scratch, touch your hair, or sneeze in your hands while preparing food?

Kudos to you if you said a hearty YES to numbers 1 to 5 and NO to the rest.

Keep Pests Out

Rats

Rats are always looking for food, water, and shelter. Keep them out of your environment by restricting their access to these essentials. Succeeding in doing this will reduce the spread of germs that they carry with them, along with the damage they cause to property, food, food storage and electrical wires. Implement the following suggestions:

  • Cover garbage
  • Pick produce as they ripen
  • Pickup produce and compost them instead of leaving them to rot in the field
  • Cleanup the kitchen after use and avoid leaving out food overnight
  • Avoid storing food outside unless they are secured in rodent-proof containers
  • Trim trees away from your building
  • Remove shrubs from the perimeter of your building
  • Seal all potential entry points
  • Keep the lawn low
  • Remove junk and other objects in your yard that could be used as a hide-out
  • Set poison baits outside
  • Set traps inside
  • Call a professional pest control operator if you still need help
Roaches

Like rats, roaches carry disease. Similarly, they seek the comfort of food, water and shelter. Therefore, eliminate them from your space by doing these:

  • Promptly wash and sanitize dishes, food contact surfaces, and all areas where food is stored or prepared
  • Vacuum and clean floors promptly to remove crumps, food stains and particles
  • Keep food off the ground
  • Limit food consumption to one room
  • Store foods in sealable containers
  • Empty trash promptly and keep garbage covered
  • Seal all potential entry points
  • Keep yard and floors free from junk, and garbage that they can use for shelter

Finish Your Antibiotic Prescriptions

Are you taking antibiotics that your doctor prescribed for a sickness? Make sure to complete the prescription. No one enjoys taking tablets, and so the temptation is to ditch the bottle as soon as the symptoms go away. This is a bad idea. Some bacteria may still be in your system. Failure to get rid of them by finishing the dose will allow them time to adapt and build up resistance.

Be Careful While Camping or Hiking

Don’t Drink Untreated Water

Don’t be fooled by how clear river, lake or stream water appears. They are sources of dangerous microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make you really sick or kill you. So, make sure to bring adequate drinking water with you. Otherwise, if you are going to use natural sources of water, make sure that you boil or filter before use. Boiling is more effective, but if you are going to filter, check the instructions to make sure the filter is fine enough to remove bacteria.

Avoid Bug Bites

Bugs such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and flies are vectors of disease organisms and can spread diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, zika, dengue and lime disease. Therefore, use bug spray while camping or hiking. Ensure added protection by wearing long pants and bug shield suit. Stay on the trail instead of wondering off in forested areas, and avoid touching wild animals. Sleep under mosquito nets at night.

Get Vaccinated

Vaccination has proven to be an effective means by which humans are able to fight against and survive many diseases. Vaccines are responsible for almost eliminating diseases such as measles, diphtheria, small pox, polio, and tetanus.

Vaccines Do
  • Protect you from deadly diseases
  • Stop the spread of deadly diseases
  • Reduce the number of hospitalizations and serious illness due to infections
  • Reduce mortality due to infection
  • Cause mild short-term side effects
Vaccines Do Not

Practice Safe Sex

The most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted infectious diseases is abstinence. Other than that, you can reduce your risk of sexually transmitted diseases by:

  • Wearing a condom
  • Having only one faithful sexual partner
  • Getting tested and sharing your test results with your partner

Conclusion

Infectious diseases will not go away. We will have to learn to live with them while keeping them under control. The strategies outlined in this article are simple. Follow them to keep yourself and your family safe.

Courtney Simons
Administrator
Courtney Simons is a food science professor. He holds a BS degree in food science and a Ph.D. in cereal science from North Dakota State University. He also holds Masters degrees in both Environmental Science and Instructional Design from Wright State University.
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