If you want to avoid getting sick, you need to protect yourself from germs by minimising your exposure to the little nasties. While you shouldn’t try to avoid germs completely – your immune system and other bodily defences are pretty good, unless you have AIDS or some other problem with weakened immunity – reducing your exposure to germs will reduce your chances of getting ill.
In these days when people are afraid that bird flu might combine with a variety of influenza that affects humans (it might happen), knowing how to protect yourself from possible exposure to viruses and bacteria that are likely to lay you low are a must.
The most important thing that anyone can do to maintain personal hygiene is to wash their hands properly. This doesn’t mean just a quick two-second rinse under a bit of water or in a basin of water but a proper hand washing with lots of soap and water or any other commercial cleaning product, and drying properly afterwards.
The next most important point is a harder one to follow. As most bacteria enter via the nose, mouth and eyes, you shouldn’t touch these places without washing your hands first. This means that you can’t rub your eyes, pick your nose, pick spinach out or your teeth or bite your fingernails in a tense moment. Some say that you shouldn’t even touch your face at all above the chin without washing your hands – but I can’t exactly see us all running off to wash hands or use hand sanitiser every time we want to scratch an itch or raise a hand to shade your eyes fro the sun (potential for a comedy sketch here involving soldiers frantically cracking out the hand sanitisers so they can salute – hand to forehead – hygienically).
And if you do have a cold or cough, or even if you start sneezing because of dust or sudden exposure to bright sunshine, you need to think of others and not spread germs. Now, common wisdom says that you should cover your mouth and nose with your hands when you cough or sneeze. However, your hands will then be laden with germs. It makes much better sense to cough/sneeze into the crook of your elbow – you aren’t going to shake hands or touch things with that. And it’s a very easy habit to acquire.
Avoid sharing spit. This doesn’t just mean toning down your enthusiasm when talking excitedly at close range to someone, but refers to not sharing drink bottles or anything else that goes in your mouth (toothbrushes, cutlery and the like). It also means not double-dipping if you’re dipping chips or crisps (or even carrot sticks) into a shared container of sauce or dip. The rule here is to dip once, coating your chip or whatever in as much sauce as you can and then biting. Don’t bite then dip. Strict hygiene gurus say that you should keep these rules even with the person you are on the most intimate terms with – although if you’re sharing a bed and some kisses with a person, you’re going to infect each other anyway, so what’s sharing a toothbrush or a cup?
Tissues are more hygienic than handkerchiefs – they can be flushed or thrown away after use rather than stuffed in your pocket. However, tissues are more expensive and use more resources, and whoever has to dispose of the rubbish can still get germs (mind you, all rubbish is pretty foul).
Viruses and bacteria can also enter the body through open wounds. While your body can do a pretty good job of fighting infection at the site of the wound, it’s best to keep open wounds and sores covered as much as possible – for one, thing, you will reduce your exposure to germs; secondly, you won’t be showing ugly pus-filled sores to the world (pus is made up of dead white blood cells that have killed bacteria on a kamikaze mission).
Face masks during flu season are a little on the silly side. You don’t need to go around the street wearing them. The only time they are really useful is if you are sick (in which case, you should be in bed) or if you are caring for a sick person.
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