Tips on staying well when others are sick

 This message is brought to you by the Student Health Care Center. For more information on staying well, you can visit the SHCC in S-120, or call call 352-381-3777.

With various disease concerns arising in the media (Ebola, dengue fever, influenza, etc.), a lot of people have questions about what they can do to stay well. Here are a few tips for avoiding infectious diseases.

1. Stay healthy. A contagious organism requires a susceptible host. The first thing all of us can do is be as healthy as possible. That includes such basic things as getting enough water every day, eating a balanced diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, getting adequate sleep and regular exercise, avoiding tobacco use, and using alcohol only in moderation. Simple? Yes. But the healthier you are, the better your immune system, and the higher your resistance to infectious organisms. So the first step is to take care of yourself.

2. Wash your hands. Probably the single biggest source of infection is organisms that accumulate on our hands. Every surface we touch is covered by billions of bacteria and viruses. Wash your hands. Often. After contact with others, especially. For instance:

a. After shaking hands with someone
b. After touching doorknobs or other surfaces touched by other people all day
c. After touching almost any surface you can think of

An important point here is one thing most people don’t think about; the faucets you touch after washing your hands and the paper towel dispenser. These are generally fairly germ-laden areas. Best idea; get a paper towel and use it to turn the faucet on and to dispense additional towels. Use it again to turn the water off. If you are using a lavatory that requires you to grasp a doorknob to exit, grasp it with the paper towel, not with your clean hands. Toss it at the trashcan rather than push in the trash can lid. Flush commodes and urinals with your foot or elbow rather than your hands. This will minimize the possibility of picking up germs others have left behind.

Hand sanitizer gels and wipes are a convenient way to do a quick clean up (like after shaking hands with someone). However, they are not as effective as soap and water. Also, when washing your hands, do it for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. Preferably not out loud :).

3. If it’s wet and sticky, and you didn’t put it there, don’t touch it. Don’t explore mysterious substances or discolorations with your fingers. You don’t know what they are. If it’s something that needs to be cleaned up, report it to someone who can do so with proper equipment. Otherwise, let it be. Some mysteries should remain unsolved.

 4. Keep your distance. Some airborne viruses (flu, common cold) can travel as far as 9 feet. Yep. That’s 3 yards – longer than Jeff Driskel’s average pass. If someone near you is coughing, sneezing, etc., move away. You can wave at them from a safer distance.

5. Don’t eat or drink after others or use their utensils or cups. Infectious organisms can be transmitted through saliva. Often, people are infectious before they develop symptoms. If they don’t know, you don’t know. Oh, and that hookah bar you love where you always get a fresh, clean mouthpiece? Is it attached to a previously used hose? Used by whom? What might they have left behind? Think about it…

 6. Stay home if you are sick!! Don’t be that person everyone else has to move away from. Have the courtesy to stay home, especially if you have a fever. It’s good to share, but not when it comes to sharing an infectious disease. Instructors and administrators please take note; when you institute or enforce Draconian (and needless) attendance policies, you encourage people who are sick to come to class. Then you get sick as well as others on the campus. One needn’t always be present to master the material. Really.

7. Get educated. If you have concerns about a specific illness, get information from reliable sources, such as www.cdc.gov or www.nih.gov . There are websites for a large variety of health topics to be found on the SHCC resource page.

8. Be realistic. Don’t put a lot of effort into worrying about the small possibility of contracting some awful disease when you have a lot more chance of injury or illness from things you do every day. Consider this; every day, people who have indestructible cases for their cell phones do things like have unprotected sex with casual acquaintances. The average student has a lot higher risk of contracting an STD than dengue fever.

In this category, we can include the need for personal protective gear, such as face masks and gloves. Relying on them to prevent infection can actually put you at greater risk. For instance, face masks need to be replaced about every 20-30 minutes to remain effective. After that, they can get moist from breathing and present no effective barrier to airborne organisms. But you think they do. Better to rely on diligence and frequent hand washing.

Here’s to your health!