Germs101: how to protect your family from getting sick

By 13SICK, National Home Doctor Service

The truth is that protecting yourself from germs can be fairly simple, and it just takes a bit of common sense! We hear a lot about germs from the time we're young children, but do you know what "germs" really are?

Types of germs

The term "germs" refers to four types of pathogens in the environment:

  • Bacteria – Bacteria is a type of germ that feeds on its environment, so it needs a source of food in order to live. Many bacteria thrive in the human body, as they need a warm, humid environment like the intestines, the mouth, the ears, and the nose. They can cause infections like tonsillitis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections, but not all bacteria are harmful. Without the bacteria in our intestines, we couldn't digest food or eliminate wastes
  • Fungi – Fungi are multi-celled germs with a structure similar to plants. They cannot make their own food, so they have to find nutrients from their host be it plants, animals, or even the soil. Fungi aren't dangerous to people who are healthy, but they can cause problems when they grow out of control or when the immune system is compromised
  • Viruses – A virus is a germ that has to be inside a living cell in order to spread, reproduce, and grow. Without a host, viruses die. Viruses take over a cell, grow inside of it, and use the cell's structure to spread throughout the host. However, a virus can live longer without a host than the other types of germs
  • Protozoa – A protozoa is basically a tiny single-celled organism that thrives in moist environments. Protozoa can spread diseases through water, causing nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. They live in stagnant and dirty drinking water.

How germs behave

Once a germ finds an environment that is favorable, they tend to occupy the place. They set in and begin to feed, finding moisture and nutrients in their new environment. As they are fed, they begin to grow and become stronger. The more they grow, the wider the germ infection will spread. What starts out with a single germ can quickly turn into a full-blown infection in a very short amount of time, provided the environment in which the germ lives is conducive to its growth.

How to protect your family from germs

Worried about coming in contact with germs today? Here are some ways to protect your family:

  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands with soap will kill off most of the germs that have collected on your hands. Every time you touch a door handle, cut food, pet an animal, or shake someone's hands, germs accumulate. Regular hand washing is the way to get rid of these germs, but alcohol-based hand rubs work as well
  • Dry your hands. Hands that are damp tend to pick up a lot of germs, so use disposable paper towels to dry your hands after washing. Avoid sharing cloth towels, but air dryers are a good alternative to paper towels
  • Avoid cuts. Wounds and open cuts are a breeding ground for germs, but hands that are dry and cracked (contact dermatitis) are just as bad. If your hands suffer from using soap, alcohol-based gels, or too much washing, eliminate the problem and protect your hands
  • Wear protection. During flu season, there are a lot of germs floating through the air. Cover your mouth and nose with a face mask, and you won't have to worry about any germs getting in and making you sick. Wear gloves to protect your hands and prevent them from picking up germs. Wash your hands before you put on the gloves, but make sure they are dry
  • Practice proper cough or sneeze etiquette. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, or turn your face away from others. Teach your family the proper etiquette, and it can minimise the spread of illness
  • Exclude the sick. If your children or spouse get sick, keep them away from the rest of your family. Make sure they avoid contact with the healthy until their symptoms have passed
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccines are effective at protecting you against sickness. With the right set of vaccinations, you can resist most of the colds, coughs, and illnesses floating in the air.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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