What’s the most important thing I can do?
Good handwashing is the single most important measure for preventing infection in the home. Common colds, diarrhea and even meningitis are most often passed from person to person through soiled hands. Wash hands with regular liquid or clean bar soap and warm water. Antibacterial soaps are not necessary in the home.
How does washing my hands keep me from getting infections?
The web page for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta describes five situations where infection is often transmitted in the home. Germs can be passed from unclean hands to food, often by someone who hasn’t washed hands after going to the bathroom. Germs might also be transferred from an infant to the hands of a caregiver when diapers are changed. Germs can pass from one food, such as uncooked meat or poultry, to another food such as salad. This explains why food handlers need to wash their hands well between touching different types of food.
Another effective way of transmitting infection involves touching your nose, mouth or eyes and then touching somebody’s else’s hands before handwashing. Finally, infection can be passed on when touching uncooked meat and poultry and then tending to an infant or child before washing the hands. We constantly get germs on our hands when we shake hands, handle uncooked food, and touch surfaces in our environment. Often without thinking, we then transfer the germs from our hands into our body by touching our eyes, nose or mouth.
Can I prevent infection by using good practices when preparing food?
Yes. It is very important to wash your hands with soap and water before, during and after food preparation. For example, if you have handled raw chicken you must wash your hands before touching other foods, particularly foods that will not be cooked before they are served. Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood away from ready-to-eat food. Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate used to hold food before it was cooked. Cook foods thoroughly, particularly meat, fish and poultry and serve immediately. Using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat or poultry is recommended.
Leftover foods should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer within two hours of serving. Bacteria multiply quickly in foods at temperatures between 4° C and 60° C (40° F and 140° F). Cooking utensils and work surfaces should be washed with hot soapy water before and after food preparation.
Can pets be a source of infection in the home?
Pets can be a source of infection. Proper care of your pet includes routine immunization and a nutritious diet. This not only protects the health of your pet, but also that of your family. A bite or scratch from a cat might also cause cat-scratch disease. Pets may also be a source of tetanus. Tetanus spores are commonly found in the soil. Pets can get these spores in their mouth after sniffing and eating things on the ground. If you are bitten by a pet and are not up-to-date with your tetanus immunizations, contact your health unit or see your family doctor for a booster shot. People are up-to-date if they have received a series of three doses of tetanus vaccine with the most recent dose or booster administered within the past five years.
Although rabies can be transmitted through a bite from an infected mammal, it can be prevented in cats, dogs and ferrets through immunization.
Salmonella bacteria cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea. Salmonellosis can be caused by exposure to pets, particularly reptiles and exotic pets, as well as by contaminated food sources. Good handwashing is necessary after handling any pet, especially a reptile or exotic pet.
Can infections be transmitted in the home environment?
Infections are most commonly passed by people, but can be transmitted indirectly from surfaces in the home. General good cleaning practices with routine household detergent or disinfectants are recommended. Scrubbing helps physically remove germs from surfaces through friction. Refer to the manufacturer’s directions when using disinfectants such as bleach, Lysol™, Pine-Sol™ or Mr. Clean™. Never mix bleach with any other cleaning product.
Other good hygiene measures also reduce infection. Personal items such as toothbrushes and razors should not be shared. Toys, particularly those handled by infants and small children, should be washed or cleaned often. Syringes or needles should be discarded safely. Before disposal, used needles must be secured in a container that cannot be punctured. Used needles should never be placed directly in a garbage bag.
Immunization prevents infections too
Vaccines have been developed to protect against most highly contagious human infections, such as measles. Most immunizations are provided as a series to infants and young children. To protect against tetanus and diphtheria, periodic boosters are recommended – even for adults.
Annual influenza immunizations or ‘flu shots’ are recommended for adults and children with heart and lung conditions requiring routine medical care. These shots are a good idea for anyone aged 65 and older, as well as those living in nursing homes and lodges. They are also suggested for those with diabetes and other metabolic disorders, changes in immune system, cancer, renal (kidney) disease or anemia. Children and adolescents (six months to 18 years) who take ASA for extended periods of time should receive influenza immunization. People travelling to areas where influenza may be present should consider being immunized. With very few exceptions, this immunization is safe and effective for anyone six months of age and older.
We share our home with our families and those closest to us. Preventing infections in the home is an important way to protect our own health and that of our loved ones.
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