In my practice, I care for patients with common illnesses, like the flu or pneumonia, but I also see more serious illnesses like West Nile Virus. I also do a lot of primary care and internal medicine work, helping people deal with maintaining and improving their health by treating or preventing long-term problems like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.
Whether it be contagious diseases or long-term concerns, it’s important to know your risks. Here are some ways knowledge can help you to stay healthy.
Preventing illnesses from spreading means stopping them from traveling. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of illness is hand-washing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that washing hands with soap and water can reduce deaths from diarrheal-related diseases by 50 percent and reduce respiratory infections by 16 percent.
Infection prevention also means not giving pathogens a place to live, which means proper sanitation. Don’t just take care to clean places like the kitchen and bathroom, though those are definitely important. Take care to properly cleanse surfaces you touch often, like doorknobs, computer keyboards or phones.
If you plan to travel, there may be vaccines or other preventive measures to keep you from bringing something other than a souvenir home. It’s a good idea to talk to a medical professional, even if you’re just going someplace in the U.S., about how to stay healthy and safe while away from home.
Ticks and mosquitos are also carriers for a number of diseases, so don’t do them any favors. Eliminating their habitats, standing water and tall grass or vegetation around your home, can cut down on your risk of disease-carrying pests. Use of insect repellents can also go a long way to keeping those bugs at bay.
[tw-divider]Food for thought[/tw-divider]
A particular threat is foodborne illness, which is caused by improper handling, preparation or storage of food. Viruses, bacteria or parasites in your food can all cause you to become sick, but you can do plenty to stop these pathogens from making you sick.
Keep cold foods at 40 degrees F., or below. Cook different foods to the following temperatures to prevent illness:
- Ground meat and meat mixtures: 160 degrees F.
- Beef: 145 degrees F.
- Pork: 145 degrees F.
- Poultry: 165 degrees F.
- Egg dishes: 160 degrees F.
- Fish: 145 degrees F.
Also remember not to leave food out for more than two hours after serving to prevent illness (one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees outside).
[tw-divider]Take your best shot[/tw-divider]
When people hear about vaccines, many think about children getting their shots. It’s true that it’s important to vaccinate children to prevent painful, serious or deadly illnesses, but adults also need to be immunized.
Here are the most common vaccines adults should get:
- Influenza (Annual): This one’s for everyone, but is especially important for the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. Flu can be especially dangerous because it opens the door for other infections, such as pneumonia, which can then be fatal. If you have an egg allergy, there’s still an option for you, so ask your doctor.
- Pneumonia (One-time): Recommended for adults 65 and older (certain medical issues may call for this vaccine earlier or re-vaccination every five years).
- Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis vaccines: (At least every 10 years for the tetanus part of the vaccine; Between 27-36 weeks of pregnancy). Prevents the spread of a number of common but serious illnesses.
- Tetanus bacteria in the blood make a toxin that is often fatal when untreated.
- Diphtheria can cause advanced damage to the heart, kidneys and nervous system and be fatal to children.
- Pertussis (whooping cough), is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can be fatal to infants.
- Varicella-zoster (One-time): Commonly known as “shingles.” Recommended for adults 60 or older (shingles are usually more serious as a person ages). Shingles are extremely painful and in rare cases can spread to the eyes, causing blindness. The virus can also damage nerves, leading to long-term pain.
Vaccinated individuals also protect others around them. We call this “herd immunity,” meaning that vaccination prevents diseases from ever spreading and infecting people. Another important fact, particularly with the flu and shingles vaccines, is that even if the vaccine does not fully prevent an illness, it can reduce the severity and duration of the illness. A few days sick with the flu is certainly better than a week or more, so this is an important vaccine to get every year.
There is a small risk of adverse reactions to vaccines, but it’s extremely low. The chances of having a reaction can be minimized when your physician completes an appropriate patient history with you.
The moral of this story is that a little preparation and planning can go a long way. Also, be sure to consult your doctor. They have a wide range of resources that can be of use to you and your loved ones.