Infectious Diseases - November 2007
Infectious diseases: How they spread, and how we can stop them.........
It starts as a sniffle or a cough from a person sitting next to you seated on the bus, or maybe, it is the raw chicken on your cutting board. Infectious organisms exist around us each and every day. With germs so common, and almost everywhere, how do you protect yourself from getting one and getting sick?
This newsletter is dedicated to learning about how germs spread, and how you can minimize your risk of infection.
Infectious diseases spread through two types of contact
The most common way to catch most infectious diseases is by coming in contact with someone who has one. This "someone" can be a person, an animal or for an unborn baby, it's mother. There are three different ways in which infectious disease can be spread through direct contact:
1) Person to Person. The most common way for an infectious disease to spread is through the direct transfer of bacteria, viruses or other germs from one person to another. This can occur when an individual with the bacteria or virus touches, coughs on or kisses someone who isn't infected. Germs can also spread through the exchange of body fluids from sexual contact or a blood transfusion.
2) Animal to Person. Your household pet might seem harmless, but pets can carry many germs. Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal can make you sick and, in extreme circumstances, could even cause death. Handling animal waste can be hazardous , too. For example, a pregnant women can acquire a toxoplasmosis infection by scooping a cat's litter box.
3) Mother to unborn child. A pregnant woman may pass germs that cause infectious disease to her unborn baby. Germs, such as the AIDS virus and the toxoplasmosis parasite, can pass through the placenta.
Disease causing organisms can also be passed along by indirect contact. Many germs can linger on an inanimate object, such as a table top, door knob, or faucet handle. When you touch the same faucet that someone ill with the flu or a cold , you can pick up the germs that he or she has left behind. If you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands, you may become infected as well.
Infectious diseases can spread through the air
When you cough or sneeze, you expel droplets into the air around you. When you are sick with a cold or the flu, these droplets contain the germ that caused your illness. The spread of infectious disease in this manner is called droplet spread or droplet transmission.
Droplets travel only about three feet because they are usually too large to stay suspended in the air for a long time. If a droplet from an infected person comes in contact with your eyes, nose or mouth, you may soon experience symptoms of the illness. Close proximity with others in crowded, indoor environments such as dormitories, classrooms, buses, airplanes, etc may promote the chances of droplet transmission. We find that in the winter months when folks are indoors more due to the weather, there is an increase in respiratory infections .
Some disease-causing germs travel through the air in particles which are considerably smaller than droplets. These tiny particles remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time and can travel in air currents. If you breathe in an airborne particle containing a virus, bacterium or other germ, you may become infected and show signs and symptoms of the disease. Colds caused by viruses, influenza and tuberculosis are a few types of infectious disease usually spread through the air, in both particle and droplet forms.
Infectious diseases spread through vectors and vehicles
Bites and Stings
Some germs are carried by insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, lice or ticks. The insect carries the germ on its body or in its intestinal tract. It lands on you or bites you. The germs from the insect move into your body and can make you sick. Some mosquitoes can carry the malaria parasite or West Nile virus, and deer ticks may carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Another way in which disease causing germs can infect you is through contaminated food and water. Food is often a vehicle that spread the germs and causes the illness. For example, Escherichia coli (E.coli) is present in such foods as undercooked hamburger or unwashed fruits and vegetables. When you eat foods contaminated with E.coli, you may suffer from an illness sometimes referred to as food poisoning.
How to prevent the spread of infectious disease
1) Wash your hands often. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet.
2) Get vaccinated. Immunizations can drastically reduce your chances of contracting many diseases. An annual flu shot will protect you against the influenza virus.
3) Stay at home if you have signs and symptoms of an infection. If you are vomiting, have diarrhea or are running a fever, you should not go to work or attend school.
4) Be smart about food preparation. Clean counters and other kitchen surfaces before and after preparing meals.
5) Wash your hands often. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet.
6) Practice safe sex. Use condoms . Condoms can aid in protecting you from sexually transmitted disease.
7) Don't share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor blade. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dinning utensils.
8) Wash your hands often. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet.
9) Travel wisely. Don't travel when you are ill. Illness can spread quickly due to the close proximity of many people in a confined area such as an airplane, bus or train.
10) Keep your pets healthy. Bring your pet to the veterinarian for regular care an vaccinations. Keep you pet's living area clean.
11) Wash your hands often. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet.
Q & A: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
In the past couple of weeks, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus , known in most circles as "MRSA" has made headlines in most newspapers across the country. Concern even grows more alarming as we see schools in our area reporting cases of this "superbug". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Department officials have released statements recommending that people practice safe hygiene, while cautioning against panic over the spread of a the strain of bacteria known as "MRSA".
The fact of the matter is , MRSA has been a growing problem since the 1970's. Misuse of antibiotics for ailments such as colds and other viral infections which they are not meant for has contributed to the antibiotics ineffectiveness for these kinds of bacteria. In a study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005, there were more then 90,000 cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Nearly 19,000 people died from staph infections in that year, most of which were cases involving people inside of health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
It is important to note that Community-Associated MRSA infections are preventable and treatable, and that steps can be taken to reduce exposure to students and staff. Below, are frequently asked questions and answers. Sources for this article are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic , the New York State Department of Health and The New York Times websites on health and disease.
What is MRSA?
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a staph infection which is resistant to the normal antibiotics used to treat an infection. In the community, most MRSA infections are skin infections that may appear as pustules or boils. These skin infections occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as a cut or an abrasion. They may also occur in areas of the body which are covered with hair such as the back of the neck, groin, buttock, armpit, and beard of men.
A person who has a sore that won't heal or is filled with pus, should be seen by a medical provider to be evaluated for a staph infection. Meanwhile, you should not squeeze or attempt to drain the lesion, because this could lead to the spread of the infection to other parts of the skin or deeper into the body.
How is MRSA transmitted?
The majority of MRSA cases happen in hospital settings, but 10-15% occur in the community at large among otherwise healthy people. Infections often occur among people who are prone to cuts and scrapes such as children and athletes. MRSA is usually transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else's infection such as towels or used bandages.
In what settings do MRSA skin infections occur?
An MRSA skin infection can occur anywhere. Common locations include schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities ,and daycare centers. Health clubs and gyms are becoming a common "hot spot" for the increase in prevalence of MRSA infections due to the warm, moist environment of the shared equipment.
There are five factors , referred to as the 5 C's that play an important role in the transmission of MRSA:
Frequent skin-to-skin Contact
Compromised skin from cuts or abrasions
Contaminated items and surfaces
Lack of Cleanliness.
How do I protect myself from getting MRSA?
You can protect yourself by:
-Practicing good hygiene. Hand washing is the simplest and most effective way of preventing disease transmission.
-Covering abrasions or cuts with a clean dry bandage until healed.
-Avoiding sharing personal items such as towels, razors, and toothbrushes. You should also consider using a barrier, such as a towel, between your skin and shared equipment such as weight-training benches.
-Maintaining a clean environment by establishing cleaning procedures for frequently touched surfaces and surfaces that come into direct contact with people's skin.
-Wash towels and sheets regularly, preferably in hot water, and leave clothes in the dryer until they are completely dry.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov
Mayo Clinic . MayoClinic.com
New York Times. Nytimes.com/well
New York State Department of Health. www.health.state.ny