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How to Prevent Harmful Infections

The bacteria and viruses that cause harmful infections are lurking everywhere, from hospital rooms to mosquitoes to your neighbor's hand. In fact, it's almost impossible to completely avoid them, but you can arm yourself against infection by following the preventative tips outlined in this article.

From protecting yourself against HIV to ensuring that you and your family don't end up with E. Coli, we have plenty of helpful suggestions. In this article, you'll find information on:

  • Preventing AIDS AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, attacks a person's immune system and has symptoms that run the gamut, from pneumonia to weight loss. The disease is actually caused by HIV, which is a viral infection that can be contained through medication to stave off full-blown AIDS. See this section for more information about HIV and AIDS, including what your best lines of defense are against it.
  • Preventing Colitis Antibiotic-associated colitis can occur after a person uses antibiotics to cure another infection. The bacterium Clostridium difficile grows rapidly and releases toxins in the intestines, which causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps, among other symptoms. On this page, you'll learn about what antibiotics to avoid, along with other preventative tips for colitis.
  • Preventing E. Coli E. Coli is another bacterial infection that affects the intestines. This one, however, is caused by contaminated water and food. Thankfully, diligent washing of fruits and vegetables, as well as thorough cooking of your meat, can help ensure you don't get this harmful infection. Read this section for more helpful tips.
  • Preventing Mad Cow Disease Most reported cases of mad cow disease have been in the United Kingdom, but it's still important for everyone to know what causes it and how to avoid it. The condition that shows up in humans who are exposed to mad cow -- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD -- is fatal, so be sure to look at this page for prevention suggestions.
  • Preventing Flesh-Eating Disease Necrotizing fasciitis, better known as the "flesh-eating" disease, is typically caused by Group A Streptococcus, the same bacteria that cause strep throat. This condition attacks the skin and soft tissue with blisters filled with black fluid. If left untreated, it can cause the body to go into toxic shock. Learn more about this harmful infection on this page.
  • Preventing SARS While the "SARS scare" has died down a bit, especially considering there are currently no reported cases, it is helpful to understand how SARS is transmitted and what you can do to protect yourself against it. Healthcare workers and people over 40 years old should be especially mindful of the prevention tips outlined in this section.
  • Preventing West Nile Virus Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus are not only pesky -- they can be downright dangerous! Learn more about how this harmful virus is transmitted and what measures you can take to protect yourself and your family against it. You'll even find tips on what to look for in a bug repellant.
  • Preventing Hospital Infections Catching an infection from a hospital seems quite counterproductive, but it's a lot more common than you might think. With all those germs around and your body's immunity system in a weakened state, hospital infections can strike, prolonging your stay and sometimes causing a problem that is more serious than the one for which you were admitted into the hospital. Find out what you can do to prevent hospital infections by reading this page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing AIDS

AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by a viral infection (HIV) that wreaks havoc on the body's immune system. The following information will help you protect yourself against HIV and AIDS.

AIDS Information

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS, which is the term used to describe the later, potentially more serious, stages of HIV infection.

HIV damages the immune system and destroys the body's CD4 T lymphocytes (T cells), one of many types of white blood cells the body uses to fight disease. T cells help the immune system "identify" foreign organisms that should be attacked. Thus, when the T cells are destroyed, it's like being defended by a leaderless army that is easily defeated.

A person can be infected with HIV for ten years or even longer without showing any symptoms. However, in most cases, during that time the virus is attacking the immune system and destroying T cells.

By the time HIV damages enough cells to bring on full-blown AIDS, many of the typical symptoms can be present: weight loss, sporadic fevers, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, and opportunistic infections such as certain types of pneumonia. Rare cancers and infections of the kidneys, digestive system, and brain can also develop.

HIV is passed from person to person by direct contact with blood or other body fluids through activities like unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact with an infected person or through sharing syringes or needles during intravenous drug use or tattooing. HIV-infected mothers can transmit the virus to their children during pregnancy, during childbirth, or through breast milk.

Before 1985, HIV was passed through blood transfusions. Today, however, according to the American Red Cross, donated blood is routinely screened for HIV, making the risk of acquiring HIV through a blood transfusion less than one in 1.5 million.

A great deal of progress has been made in the nearly 30 years since HIV and AIDS were first recognized. Although HIV infection is a terminal illness with no cure or vaccine, people today can live with HIV for years, and they might not develop AIDS, thanks to a combination of medications. With treatment, HIV/AIDS can be considered a chronic disease like high blood pressure or diabetes in many people.

However, HIV infection is a major threat in the developing world, where treatment is often unavailable. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 24.5 million of the 38.6 million people in the world who are infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Who's at Risk for AIDS?

People who share needles for intravenous drug use, tattooing, or body piercing have a higher risk of contracting HIV, as do those who have unprotected sex. As mentioned earlier, children born to HIV-infected mothers are also at risk of contracting the virus.

Defensive Measures Against HIV

HIV cannot be spread through casual contact. This means you can't contract HIV from someone who is infected with the disease by touching common surfaces, hugging, crying, or even kissing with a closed mouth (according to the available scientific evidence, the risk of transmitting HIV even through open-mouth kissing is very low). There are also ways you can protect yourself from this virus:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the best ways to avoid HIV and AIDS is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to keep sexual activity within the confines of a long-term, monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested for HIV (and it's a good idea to be tested for other sexually transmitted diseases, too).
  • If you do have sex, use a condom.
  • Don't share hygiene items that may come into contact with blood, such as a toothbrush or razor.
  • If you are getting a tattoo or a body piercing, don't share needles. Be sure you are working with a reputable tattoo artist or piercer who follows strict sanitary guidelines.
  • Anyone who uses intravenous drugs or receives any kind of injection should use a clean syringe each time. Never share syringes because infections, including HIV, can be passed among people through them.
  • If you are pregnant or would like to become pregnant, talk with your physician about getting an HIV test. If you test positive, there are medications that can reduce the chance of passing HIV to your baby.
  • If you're HIV-positive, tell your sexual partners about your infection so they can be tested.

Colitis is a harmful infection that attacks the intestines. Learn prevention tips on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Colitis

Colitis is a painful bacterial infection that attacks the intestines and has symptoms such as diarrhea. It can be caused by antibiotics.
Colitis is a painful bacterial infection that attacks the intestines and has symptoms such as diarrhea. It can be caused by antibiotics.
Publications International, Ltd.

Antibiotic-Associated Colitis, also known as Pseudomembranous Colitis or C. diff Colitis, can be a painful bacterial infection that attacks the intestines and shows itself in the form of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Learn more about colitis and what to do to avoid it by reading the following page.

Colitis Information

The bacterium Clostridium difficile is to blame for antibiotic-associated colitis. This infection is caused by toxins in the intestines after a person undergoes antibiotic treatment. After antibiotics kill off some of the other competing bacteria, the usually harmless spores of C. difficile germinate, growing rapidly and releasing toxins that damage the intestinal wall.

Although all antibiotics have the potential to create this situation, the most common culprits are clindamycin, ampicillin, amoxicillin, and all antibiotics in the cephalosporin family. Certain cancer chemotherapy drugs can also cause the disease.

The disease's most prominent symptom, diarrhea, usually begins five to ten days (or longer) after starting antibiotic treatment. Other indications include abdominal cramps, fever, fatigue, and an elevated white blood cell count.

Once the antibiotic that caused the symptoms is no longer in the body, mild cases of antibiotic-associated colitis can pass without complication (and without specific treatment) in about two weeks, as long as dehydration is prevented.

Sometimes, people are given a different antibiotic to control the growth of C. difficile or even supplements that contain microorganisms to help replace some of the intestine's "good" bacteria.

In 2004, an outbreak of more severe C. difficile disease began primarily in Canada and England. This strain of the organism is a mutant that produces ten to 20 times more toxin than other strains and has even occurred in people who have not received antibiotics or cancer chemotherapy.

About 50 percent of people with antibiotic-associated colitis will develop a severe complication called pseudomembranous enterocolitis, in which white blood cells, mucus, and the protein that causes blood to clot (fibrin) are excreted in the stool. If this happens, a high fever, nausea, dehydration, low blood pressure, and even a tear in the wall of the large intestine could occur.

Who's at Risk for Colitis?

Those 60 and older have an increased risk of developing antibiotic-associated colitis because they are more likely to have C. difficile spores already present in their intestines. People who are severely ill or who have weakened immune systems, as well as hospitalized people, are also more susceptible.

Defensive Measures Against Colitis

The best way to protect yourself from antibiotic-associated colitis is to stay healthy and avoid bacterial infections so you don't have to take antibiotics. This means washing your hands, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, exercising, and taking a daily multivitamin.

If you do contract antibiotic-associated colitis, being in good health can help reduce your chance of developing complications and can mean a shorter bout with the illness. C. difficile spores can survive in excreted stools and be spread to others, so hand washing and proper disposal of diapers is especially important.

Because this disease is common in hospitals, healthcare organizations are trying to control the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

E. Coli is another harmful infection that affects the intestines. Learn more about it on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing E. Coli

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables to get rid of potentially harmful bacteria.

People suffering from E. coli develop hemorrhagic colitis, which is an acute disease that causes severe abdominal pain and diarrhea, among other symptoms. Below, we'll tell you how to take preventative measures against this bacterial infection.

E. Coli Information

E. coli, or Escherichia coli O157:H7, is one of the many bacteria normally found in the intestines of animals, including people, and excreted in bowel movements. This particular strain (O157) is not normally found in the human intestine and poses significant risks to those who become infected by it. The bacterium can be found in the stool of cattle, especially during summer months.

Unlike other milder strains of E. coli, E. coli O157 produces a toxin that damages the intestinal lining and causes an acute disease called hemorrhagic colitis. During a bout of hemorrhagic colitis, a person experiences severe abdominal pain; diarrhea that progresses from watery to bloody; occasional vomiting; and, when the disease is at its worst, kidney failure.

A high fever typically accompanies these symptoms in other infections, but it is surprisingly absent in cases of E. coli O157 infection. The illness runs its course in about eight days. Children are especially susceptible to E. coli O157 complications, which might cause kidney failure.

E. coli O157 is spread through water or food that is directly or indirectly contaminated with animal (usually cattle) feces. Unwashed fruits or vegetables, undercooked beef (especially ground beef), and unpasteurized milk are frequent vehicles for the bacterium. It also can spread person to person when people don't wash their hands often enough and through swimming in contaminated water.

Who's at Risk for E. Coli?

Anyone can become infected with E. coli O157, but the most serious complications develop in children younger than 5 and in the elderly. In these populations, the infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that causes the kidneys to fail.

Defensive Measures Against E. Coli

Although undercooked hamburger has often been implicated in E. coli O157 outbreaks, other foods also have been blamed, including alfalfa sprouts, cheese curds, unpasteurized fruit juices, dry-cured salami, lettuce, and game meat. However, any food product eaten raw or contaminated by raw meat could be infected. Outbreaks have also occurred through direct exposure to animals in petting zoos.

But before you start investing in high-power microscopes to examine all the food that comes into your kitchen, keep in mind that you can significantly cut your risk of E. coli O157 infection by taking a few simple precautions:

  • Soap up. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently helps protect you from contracting E. coli O157 from infected people, who may unknowingly share the bacteria. Good hand washing is especially important between family members in households where diapers are changed and toddlers need assistance after using the bathroom. If you visit a petting zoo with kids, be sure they look but don't touch and practice good hand washing.
  • Thoroughly cook ground beef. Ground beef is a particular risk because meat from many different cows is mixed together by the ton, and it only takes a small amount of E. coli O157 to spoil a whole batch. Contaminated meat won't look, smell, or taste odd. Use a meat thermometer to ensure ground beef is cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit throughout. And when at a restaurant, don't hesitate to send back a pink hamburger, and ask for a new plate and bun, too.
  • Clean up after raw meat. Wash all surfaces, counters, utensils, and cutting boards used during the preparation of raw meats, and be sure to keep raw meat separate from other ingredients.
  • Choose pasteurized products. Avoid drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk. If E. coli bacteria are present on a cow's udder or on milking equipment, the bacteria could pass into raw milk supplies. Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices also could be contaminated with E. coli O157.
  • Run some water. You should wash all raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them, but think twice about consuming even washed alfalfa sprouts. According to the CDC, the very young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised should not eat them at all because of their tendency to harbor E. coli O157.

While the cause of mad cow disease is still being debated, there are some solid prevention measures you can take against it. Learn about them in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Mad Cow Disease

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Choosing certain cuts of beef can help decrease your chance of being exposed to mad cow disease.

People exposed to mad cow disease can develop Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which usually results in death a year or so after symptoms are exhibited. Learn more about what causes mad cow disease and how you can avoid eating products that could be potentially infected.

Mad Cow Disease Information

The cause of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, is still being debated. Most authorities, however, hold that misshapen prion proteins cause the disease. These misfolded proteins are infectious when directly inoculated into the brain, injected into the body, or eaten. Because prions lack nucleic acid, they cannot be attacked the same way viruses are. In fact, prions are virtually indestructible.

Outbreaks of human prion disease have been caused by contaminated growth hormone produced from cadavers, from ritual cannibalism, and from eating meat from cattle with mad cow disease.

Mad cow disease is a fatal infection that causes neurological degeneration in cattle and was first noted in the 1980s. The brain wastes away and becomes spongelike, and the central nervous system is wrecked.

According to the World Health Organization, infected cattle can carry the disease for four to five years before showing symptoms. However, once symptoms appear, the degenerative disease causes death within 12 months. Signs of mad cow disease include odd changes in temperament (including extreme nervousness), weight loss, and lack of coordination.

Although the exact origin of mad cow disease is unknown, it is most often transmitted to animals through manufactured high-protein feed that contains the brain or spinal cord remnants of infected animals.

A fatal brain disease in people called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a result of being exposed to beef infected by mad cow disease. Like mad cow disease, vCJD causes spongelike holes in the brain and can incubate for years, but it is difficult to diagnose before it causes severe neurological damage and triggers brain deterioration; death usually occurs within a year or so. Other animals, including large felines in zoos, have acquired the infection from eating affected meat scraps.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is different from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which was discovered more than 100 years ago. People with vCJD are usually much younger and die in 12 months to 18 months instead of four months to six months. Differences are also apparent upon microscopic examination of affected brain tissue. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first reported in 1996.

Who's at Risk for Mad Cow Disease?

Anyone who eats beef from an animal with mad cow disease is at risk. About 150 worldwide cases of vCJD have occurred to date, nearly all associated with beef consumption in the United Kingdom. Experts are still debating whether a larger epidemic of this disease in humans will happen. Mad cow disease has also been reported to a lesser degree in other European countries, Japan, Canada, and even the United States.

Defensive Measures Against Mad Cow Disease

If the risk of having your brain turn to mush has you contemplating a few dietary changes, you should consider the following:

  • According to the CDC, solid cuts of meat carry less risk of exposing people to the agents that cause vCJD. T-bone steak (which is a cut from near the cow's spinal column), ground beef, sausage, hot dogs, or any meat that can contain bits of brain tissue or spinal cord carry the highest risk.
  • Replacing some red meats with poultry and fish, or skipping meat altogether, can reduce your risk.
  • Watch what you eat when you travel. If you visit countries where mad cow disease has been reported, including the United Kingdom, skip the beef entree.
  • Milk and products made from milk are not thought to be a means of transmittal.

Cooking your hamburgers extremely well-done won't protect you, because prions aren't destroyed during any cooking process. However, your chances of running across this infection are rare because meat products cannot be imported into the United States from countries with mad cow outbreaks, and the Food and Drug Administration has stopped allowing importation of dietary supplement and cosmetic ingredients that contain bovine products from certain at-risk countries.

Another frightening infection in the world today is what's called the "flesh-eating" disease. Learn more about it -- and how to prevent it -- on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Flesh-Eating Disease

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. If flesh-eating disease progresses rapidly, the body can go into toxic shock, increasing the risk of death.

Painful and potentially fatal, flesh-eating disease is a bacterial infection that attacks the body's skin and soft tissues. Read more about this harmful disease below.

Flesh-Eating Disease Information

Group A Streptococcus bacteria, the same bacteria that cause strep throat, can be to blame for the bacterial infection known as the "flesh-eating" disease, or necrotizing fasciitis. However, a combination of other oxygen-using (aerobic) or oxygen-avoiding (anaerobic) bacteria can be the cause, as well.

The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis can enter the body through respiratory droplets, such as those released during a sneeze or cough, or they can get in through a surgical incision or through an injury as minor as a paper cut. The bacteria multiply quickly and destroy skin and soft tissues, including the fascia, the fibrous tissue below the skin that surrounds muscle.

At its onset, necrotizing fasciitis causes flulike symptoms and severe pain in the affected area, but within a day or so, the work of the destructive bacteria becomes apparent: Swollen, dark tissue and blisters filled with black fluid develop on the infected body part. By this time, the pain disappears because the nerves are destroyed.

If the disease is allowed to progress, it can cause blood pressure to drop and can send the body into shock from the toxins released by scores of bacteria. The infected person requires immediate hospitalization to receive intravenous antibiotics and to have the infected tissue surgically removed.

According to the CDC, necrotizing fasciitis kills about 20 percent of the people it afflicts, but complications due to toxic shock can push the mortality rate to 50 percent. Survivors face massive amputation, disfigured tissue, and months of skin grafts to repair damaged areas.

Who's at Risk for Flesh-Eating Disease?

Anyone can be infected with the bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis. However, those with weakened immune systems, people who have diabetes, alcohol and drug abusers, the elderly, and those who undergo abdominal surgery are at increased risk.

Defensive Measures Against Flesh-Eating Disease

The best way to defend yourself against necrotizing fasciitis is to avoid the bacteria that cause it. That means washing your hands thoroughly and often, steering clear of people who have sore throat symptoms (in case they have strep throat), and taking care of injuries. If you receive a cut or abrasion, wash it thoroughly with hot water and soap and apply antibiotic ointment. And don't pop skin blisters -- the National Institutes of Health says keeping the skin intact is a powerful line of defense to ward off infection.

If flesh-eating bacteria are present, you'll want to get treatment early on. Watch injured areas for signs of infection, especially if you're in a high-risk group. Look for swelling around the wound, redness, and/or drainage, and note any pain. If you have any doubts, seek medical treatment. Early intervention can save life and limb.

See the next section for prevention tips against a relatively new viral infection -- SARS.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing SARS

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. SARS has similar symptoms to the flu, including fevers, headaches, and coughs.

Although there are currently no outbreaks of SARS, it is important to have as much information as possible about this virus because you never know when it will rear its ugly head again.

SARS Information

A newly discovered coronavirus causes SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. This viral respiratory illness first appeared in China in 2002, but it soon spread to North America, South America, and Europe. It appears to have been transmitted to humans through mixing of viruses among captive animals at market in China.

SARS usually spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, expelling droplets of fluid that come into contact with the mucous membranes (in the eyes or nose) of an uninfected person. People can also pick up SARS coronavirus by touching a surface or object contaminated by those droplets and then putting their hands to their eyes or nose.

According to the CDC, there is some suspicion among researchers that the SARS virus might spread through the air in ways that aren't yet known. The virus causes flulike symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, a dry cough, and general discomfort. A small percentage of people with SARS may have diarrhea. Most people infected with SARS develop pneumonia.

Who's at Risk for SARS?

Anybody can contract SARS, but healthcare workers who come into contact with infected patients are most at risk. Those who are 40 and older are most likely to have complications. However, according to the CDC, SARS was not being transmitted anywhere on the globe at the time of this article's publishing.

Defensive Measures Against SARS

Although there are currently no outbreaks of SARS, there is always the chance the virus will rear its ugly head again. It's a good idea to follow basic infection-control tips. That means washing your hands well and often, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers; covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze; not touching your nose, mouth, or eyes unless your hands are clean; and being extra vigilant in environments such as airplanes where viruses can easily jump from person to person.

While people often spread viruses to each other, the West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. Learn more on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing West Nile Virus

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Thankfully, only a small percentage of mosquitoes are infected with West Nile virus.

The West Nile virus is unique in that it is typically transmitted through infected mosquitoes. On this page, you can gather tips to defend yourself against this harmful virus.

West Nile Virus Information

West Nile disease is caused by the West Nile virus, which is usually spread by the Culex species of mosquitoes. The name comes from the area around the Nile River in Uganda, where the virus was first isolated.

Wild birds are the main source of West Nile virus. When mosquitoes feed on infected birds, they become carriers and transmit the virus to people and other animals. The West Nile virus enters the bloodstream through a mosquito bite, then multiplies and spreads and can eventually make its way to the brain, where it causes inflammation.

In very rare cases, West Nile virus has been transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, through breast milk, and through organ transplants and blood transfusions from an infected donor. West Nile virus does not otherwise spread from person to person.

Only a very small percentage of mosquitoes are actually infected with West Nile virus, and not everyone bitten by an infected mosquito will become sick. The good news is if illness does occur, the body can usually fight it off, and many people will have no symptoms.

In those who do develop a more severe form of illness, the symptoms of fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen glands, and joint pain subside within several days. In rare cases, West Nile virus can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). No preventive vaccine is available for West Nile virus.

Who's at Risk for West Nile Virus?

Anyone who comes into contact with infected mosquitoes can contract West Nile virus, but people 50 and older or those who have weakened immune systems are most at risk for complications. West Nile virus has been found in all lower 48 states, but those who live in warmer climates are more likely to encounter infected mosquitoes. People who work outdoors also have a greater chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito. Many state health department Web sites have information about West Nile prevalence within their borders.  

Defensive Measures Against West Nile Virus

To keep West Nile virus away, you need to keep mosquitoes away. Wearing insect repellent is just one of the many things you can do to protect yourself from West Nile virus:

  • Buy the right bug spray. When you reach for a can of insect repellent, be sure it includes oil of lemon eucalyptus or chemicals such as picaridin, permethrin, or DEET. DEET is toxic, so it should be applied sparingly to the skin. Don't apply a repellent that is more than 30 percent DEET on children, and never put it on their hands.
  • Wear a layer of protection. When outside in heavy mosquito areas, wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks. Mosquitoes can bite through thin fabrics, so spray clothing with insect repellent.
  • Steer clear of standing water. Standing water, whether in a puddle, a wading pool, a birdbath, clogged gutters, or a tire swing, is the mosquito's version of a hot nightclub. Get rid of the water and you get rid of the mosquito breeding ground.
  • Shield the stroller. If you are taking your baby on a walk, use a mosquito net. There are many types available for nearly any make and model of stroller or carriage.
  • Watch the time. If you are outdoors in the early morning or early evening, you're more likely to get bitten because more mosquitoes will be buzzing around.
  • Keep the outside out. Check the screens on your home's windows and doors. If they're in good shape, mosquitoes won't be moving in.
  • Make the call. If you come across a dead bird, call your local health authorities. Whatever you do, don't touch it with your bare hands. It's important to keep a firm handle on West Nile virus activity even before it affects humans, and the information you provide can alert authorities to the need for better mosquito control.
  • Put away your credit card. Ignore those infomercials about "ultrasonic" mosquito devices or cases of vitamin B. The CDC says these aren't effective in preventing mosquito bites.

Oddly enough, often the largest breeding ground for infection is the place you go to get well -- the hospital. See the next section for prevention tips against hospital infections.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Hospital Infections

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Healthcare workers must always be diligent about washing hands in order to avoid spreading infection.

It may seem ironic, but the place where you go to be healed can make you sick. Hospitals are havens for infection-causing bugs, but by following a few practical tips, you can have a healthier hospital stay.

Hospital Infection Information

Several different kinds of bacteria, and less often, viruses and fungi, are responsible for hospital infections, or nosocomial infections. The most common infectors are the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Escherichia coli.

When you go to the hospital, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers have a variety of tools at their disposal to save your life

or better your physical condition. Unfortunately, these same tools can harbor bacteria and other bugs that can cause infection. Catheters, surgical implements, breathing tubes, and even latex gloves can spread infection if not properly used.

The healthcare workers themselves can spread infection if they're not vigilant about washing their hands and changing gloves every time they move from one patient to another. Hospital infections can also be the result of contaminated ventilation or water systems. However, the development of a hospital infection does not necessarily mean something was done incorrectly.

Urinary tract infections, surgical wound site infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia are the most common illnesses transmitted in hospitals. Nosocomial infections are so virulent for a couple of reasons.

First, hospitals are full of sick people who bring with them a variety of infectious agents. Second, hospital patients do not have strong immune systems. Their bodies are hard at work trying to recover from an illness, injury, or surgery. And when the immune system is not in top condition, your body's defenses are down and it's easy for a new bug to invade.

Who's at Risk for Hospital Infections?

The CDC estimates that almost two million Americans get hospital infections each year, and 90,000 of those people die from them. Anyone who spends time in the hospital is at risk for infection, but the chances are greater for those who stay in an intensive care unit.

Defensive Measures Against Hospital Infections

You can take many precautions to steer clear of infections while in the hospital. In fact, the CDC estimates at least one-third of hospital-acquired illnesses can be avoided. Being aware of your rights as a patient and following a few practical tips will go a long way toward ensuring you don't leave the hospital sicker than when you got there:

  • Wash up. Do your duty by washing your hands or at least using a hand sanitizing gel that doesn't require water every time you use the restroom or handle anything that might be a germ carrier. Suspect items include soiled sheets, a bedpan, and used tissues.
  • Ask away. Don't be afraid to ask your physicians, nurses, and nurse's aides if they have washed their hands.
  • Watch that wound. Be sure to keep the dressing around a wound dry and clean. Let a nurse know immediately if it gets wet or begins to loosen.
  • Care for that catheter. Treat your catheter site as a wound dressing and keep it clean and dry. If the dressing comes loose or if the drainage tube becomes dislodged, tell your nurse.
  • Be part of the team. Be sure everyone involved in your care knows of any potential medical conditions, such as diabetes, that may affect your healing.
  • Know and follow the rules. Follow your physician's instructions and ask questions if you're unsure about anything he or she has instructed you to do or not do.
  • Be sure well-wishers are well. Tell family or friends who are sick to send you a get-well card instead of dropping by for a visit.

By following the preventative measures outlined in this article, you will decrease your chance of acquiring the many harmful infections in your midst. From simple hand washing to eating healthy, these tips are typically easy to do and often have multiple benefits.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Laurie L. Dove is an award-winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness, and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers magazine and Southern Living magazine. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, he has a passion for learning and writing about health issues,

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Harmful Infections: Lots More Information

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