The term "germ" is really just a generic word for four different types of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
Bacteria (pronounced: bak- tir -ee-uh) are tiny, single-celled organisms that are found throughout nature, including in the bodies of human beings. A certain number of bacteria are good for our bodies - they help keep the digestive system in working order and keep harmful bacteria from moving in. Some bacteria are even used to produce medicines and vaccines. But bacteria can cause trouble too - ever had a cavity, urinary tract infection, or strep throat?
These infections are all caused by bacteria.
How Can I Protect Myself From Germs?
The best way to prevent the infections that germs cause is by protecting yourself. Because most germs are spread through the air in sneezes or coughs or through bodily fluids like sweat, saliva, semen, vaginal fluid, or blood, your best bet is to limit contact with those substances.
Washing your hands often is absolutely the best way to stop germs from getting into your body. When should you wash? After using the bathroom, after blowing your nose or coughing, after touching any pets or animals, after gardening, or before and after visiting a sick relative or friend. And of course you should wash your hands before eating or cooking. There's a right way to wash hands, too - you need to soap up well using warm water and plenty of soap, then rub your hands vigorously together for 15 seconds (away from the water). Rinse your hands and finish by drying them thoroughly on a clean towel.
If you spend any time in the kitchen, you'll have many opportunities to get rid of germs. Be sure to use proper food-handling techniques, like using separate cutting boards, utensils, and towels for preparing uncooked meat and poultry.
Another way to fight infections from germs is to make sure you have the right immunizations, especially if you'll be traveling to countries outside the United States. Other yearly immunizations, such as the flu vaccine, may be a particularly good idea if you have a weakened immune system or other chronic medical problems.
If you are sexually active, you should use condoms to prevent infection because viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa can be spread via oral, anal, or vaginal contact. Also, all teens should be vaccinated against meningococcal disease, HPV, and varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is often transmitted through sexual activity but people can also get it from contaminated needles - such as those used for tattooing, body piercing, or drugs.
With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your way!
Article courtesy of Seattle Children's Hospital - Research - Foundation
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
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