We may have come a long way toward conquering infectious diseases like smallpox, polio and leprosy. And the threat of malaria, cholera or typhoid seems comfortably far off. But the fact of the matter is, the colds and flu that flourish in our own backyards can lead to serious and sometimes fatal conditions, like bacterial pneumonia, if not treated properly. Your best defense? Steering clear of the bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory infections in the first place. Here’s how:
1. Get immunized. Men and women who should have a yearly flu shot include those who have chronic heart or kidney disease, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, emphysema, chronic anemia, severe diabetes or an impaired immune system. Anyone age 50 or older should also be vaccinated, as should healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters. If you’re age 65 or older, you should receive the pneumonia vaccine at least once. All adults need to be immunized every 10 years for tetanus and diphtheria, and should receive one pertussis (whooping cough) booster.
2. Cut down on the handshakes. Today, schoolchildren are taught to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbows. But most adults still use their hands to cover up a cough or sneeze. While this prevents infected droplets from getting into the air, it makes hand-to-hand contact risky business for anyone trying to stay well. Flash your best smile and ask about your friend’s spouse, grandchildren or latest fishing trip to make your hands-free greeting as warm as any handshake.
3. Wash your hands—a lot. Even if you don’t shake a lot of hands, you can pick up bacteria and viruses on countertops, faucets and doorknobs. Frequent hand washing with soap and water will help keep any germs on your hands from reaching your mouth, nose or eyes—popular entry points for microscopic invaders.
4. Protect your immune system. Like the rest of your body, your immune system works better when it gets enough rest, enough exercise and enough of the right foods. Eating a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and grain products will supply your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to fight off illness.