What do doorknobs, light switches, public transport handrails, shopping cart handles, and public keypads and touch screens all have in common? All are examples of objects and surfaces where germs can thrive. And when human hands come into contact with still-living germs from these surfaces, they could re-transmit these pathogens and infect themselves or other people.
You may be touching contaminated objects or surfaces on a daily basis without giving it a second thought. But at a time when the general public is doubly worried about contracting illness in public, that second thought counts for a lot. That’s why it’s good to be aware of which diseases you can get from infected surfaces, and how to protect yourself accordingly. Here are four that you need to watch out for today.
What Is Influenza?
Influenza, otherwise known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness. Although its symptoms are quite similar to that of the common cold, the two are actually caused by separate viruses. And, compared to the common cold, the flu can cause more serious complications. From 2018 to 2019 alone, the flu caused more than 490,000 hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths in the United States.
Typical symptoms of the flu include:
- Aches and pains
- Noticeable fatigue or weakness
- Chest discomfort
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
While symptoms of the common cold tend to manifest gradually, flu symptoms can manifest quite abruptly. You must watch out for symptoms of the flu in case they lead to complications like pneumonia or bronchitis.
Where You Can Catch Influenza From
It’s most common to catch the flu from person-to-person contact due to how easily one can be exposed to respiratory droplets from an infected individual. These droplets could land on an unsuspecting person’s mucous membranes like their mouth, nose, or eyes, or they could be inhaled into the lungs. Though it’s less common to contract the flu from touching infected surfaces, it still happens. If a person touches a contaminated surface or object and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes right after, they could end up catching the flu virus.
How to Protect Yourself from Influenza
The best protection that one can have from the flu is the influenza vaccine. Infants older than six months, young children, adults, and people at risk of complications should be vaccinated yearly. Other ways to prevent the flu are avoiding close contact with someone who has it, washing your hands frequently, and being careful when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
It may be easy to control the risk of infection when you’re at home and in full control of your surroundings. But of course, things are a little more unpredictable when you’re out in public. As such, it’s also recommended that you go out with simple protective gear, like a cloth mask and an anti-microbial cover for the hand that has been imbued with antimicrobial properties. Using the latter will be much more effective at shielding you from viruses than plain fabric gloves ever will. Not only will am anti-microbial hand protector minimize direct contact with a contaminated surface; the fabric will also actively eliminate pathogens, thus preventing their re-transmission. This is one of the best pre-emptive approaches you can take against influenza viruses, as well as other pathogens found on dirty objects and surfaces.
What is Measles?
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious illness that commonly occurs in children. The most recognizable sign that one has measles is the appearance of a red rash with raised bumps. Though the death rates for measles have fallen over the decades, the disease can still be fatal among small children. According to the World Health Organization, more than 140,000 succumbed to measles in 2019. Most of the deaths occurred among children who were under the age of 5.
The most noteworthy symptoms of measles are the following:
- Irritating, painful, and blotchy skin rash
- Koplik’s spots, or tiny white spots found inside one’s mouth or the inside of one’s cheek
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Runny nose
Where You Can Catch Measles From
Measles is caused by a virus that replicates inside the nose or the throat of the infected person. When that person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, their infected respiratory droplets may either be released into the air or land on surfaces where the virus doesn’t immediately die. In the case of the latter, if an unsuspecting person touches the contaminated surface and then proceeds to either rub their eyes or touch their nose and mouth, then they can get infected with measles as well.
How to Protect Yourself from Measles
The most effective way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated. Your kids can receive their measles vaccine in two doses: one when they are between 12 and 15 months of age, and one when they are between 4 and 6 years old. If you’re an adult who doesn’t have proof of immunity, you can consult your doctor about getting the measles vaccine for yourself. Shield yourself and your children from getting measles by avoiding direct contact with an infected person, cleaning and sanitizing the surfaces in your home, and telling your kids not to touch their eyes, noses, or mouth with dirty hands.
What Is Pinkeye?
Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the conjunctival tissue of the eyes. This tissue is what lines the inside of your eyelid. Pinkeye can be highly contagious, especially among small children. Although it rarely results in serious damage to the eyes, it can be quite uncomfortable and inconvenient for the one suffering from it.
Common symptoms of pinkeye include the following:
- Itchy or burning eyes
- Thick and sticky mucus around the eyes
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Slightly blurry vision
Where You Can Catch Pinkeye From
Pinkeye can be caused by an allergy, by bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus, or by a contagious virus. In the case of the latter, it’s usually by hand-to-eye contact after one touches an infected surface.
How to Protect Yourself from Pinkeye
You can sufficiently protect yourself and your family from pinkeye by keeping your surroundings clean. Reduce the chances of anyone getting allergic conjunctivitis by cleaning your home of common allergens, like dust mites and mold. If someone catches bacterial conjunctivitis, the condition can be treated with topical antibiotics. For viral conjunctivitis, however, you can let the infection run its course and relieve pain or itchy eyes with eye drops. Avoid the viral type of pinkeye by keeping your hands clean and minimizing how often you touch your eyes.
What Is Viral Gastroenteritis?
Viral gastroenteritis results in the inflammation of one’s stomach and both the small and large intestines. It’s commonly known as “stomach flu,” but it is not instigated by any of the influenza viruses. At best it can cause discomfort in healthy people. But at worst, it can have serious effects on infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
Noteworthy symptoms of viral gastroenteritis are the following:
- Abdominal pains or cramps
- Watery diarrhea
- Low fever
Where You Can Catch Viral Gastroenteritis From
This type of gastroenteritis is highly contagious, and it is usually caused by contact with contaminated surfaces. Some examples are drinking from a contaminated glass or touching kitchen utensils held by an infected person who did not wash their hands. Certain food items, like shellfish and crustaceans, may also be contaminated because of exposure to sewage.
How to Protect Yourself from Viral Gastroenteritis
Hygienic practices in food preparation are the best way to prevent viral gastroenteritis. Discourage the sharing of containers and utensils, and make sure that all surfaces where food is prepared are left clean. Encourage everyone who is about to eat or handle food to wash their hands prior, especially if they are coming from the bathroom.
Now’s the Time to Take Extra Precaution
Your approach to combating infectious diseases should be all-around. Clean and sanitize surfaces and objects, and protect yourself properly against infection by consistently observing established hand hygiene practices and by wearing protective gear when necessary.
Do what you can to stop the spread of pathogens, whether they come from other persons or from contaminated surfaces or objects. Stay informed so that you and your loved ones of all ages can stay safe and healthy!