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5 little ways you could be spreading your germs to others

5 little ways you could be spreading your germs to others

You might be spreading your germs if you're washing your hands the wrong way.

You might be spreading your germs if you’re washing your hands the wrong way.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
  • This cold and flu season, you could end up inadvertently passing your germs to others.
  • If you’re sick, your germs can spread when you talk to other people, and when you don’t stay home from work or school.
  • Germs can also spread easily if you wash your hands incorrectly.
  • If you don’t get a flu shot, you could also risk spreading the flu to more vulnerable people.

Nobody who gets sick wants to inflict achy, sniffly misery on the people they live or work with. But there are some ways that you could be spreading germs to others – or, at least, putting them at a higher risk for illness – without realizing it.

Here are a handful of habits or actions that can promote the transmission of illness-causing bugs.

1. Talking

You can spread the flu just by talking.

You can spread the flu just by talking.
pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock

You don’t have to cough directly into someone’s face to give them the flu.

If you’re infected, you can spread the flu to people up to six feet away by coughing, sneezing, or just talking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Experts think that flu viruses spread by droplets that are made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land someone else’s mouth or nose or possibly be inhaled, the CDC website adds.

2. Not washing your hands the right way

You likely already know that frequent hand washing can keep you from passing your germs to other people.

But it seems many of us are blowing off proper hand-washing technique. A study published US Department of Agriculture in June found that people fail to wash their hands correctly 97% of the time.

Read more: The most popular way of avoiding bathroom germs is bogus – here’s what you should do instead

The CDC says good handwashing – the type that effectively removes germs from your hands – should follow these steps:

  • Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap
  • Lather up, making sure you get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds. (You can sing the “Happy Birthday” song as a self-timer)
  • Rinse with clean, running water
  • Dry using a clean towel (or just air)

If you don’t have access to soap and clean running water, you can use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol, according to the CDC, but hand washing is still best when you can do it.

If you need extra motivation to scrub for the full 20 seconds, just remember that hand-washing protects you from other people’s germs, too. For instance: Public bathroom surfaces contaminated with other peoples’ feces or vomit could be crawling with pathogens like E. coli, hepatitis A and E, Streptococcus, and norovirus, as Business Insider reported earlier this year.

3. Not staying home when you’re sick

It’s no shock that going into work or school when you’re sick can get others sick, too. But you might be surprised by the speed with which that may happen – at least according to one study that examined viral spread in a office building.

In the study -which was presented at a 2104 conference of the American Society for Microbiology – researchers placed viruses on one or two surfaces in an office, like a doorknob or tabletop. After just four hours, more than half of the workers’ hands positive for the virus.

If you have the flu, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without using fever-reducing medicines). If you get a cold, some experts note that you may be able to spread it to others shortly before symptoms show up, but it’s most contagious in the first two to three days that you actually feel sick, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

4. Not getting your flu shot

Flu shots aren't just for you.

Flu shots aren’t just for you.
Getty Images

If you’re a young, healthy person who typically doesn’t get sick over the winter, you may think it’s not important to get vaccinated against the flu. But a flu shot doesn’t just protect you – it also protects the more vulnerable people around you, like babies, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. (Don’t forget that the flu can be fatal. An estimated 80,000 Americans died from it last year.)

First, getting the shot means you’re less likely to get the flu and pass it to others.

Read more: 3 myths about the flu shot you need to stop believing

Second, getting the shot contributes to what’s known as herd immunity. When more people in a population are vaccinated against a disease, that disease can’t spread as easily and the entire population becomes less likely to get it. This helps protect those who can’t get certain vaccinations. (The CDC says that babies younger than six months and people who are allergic to flu shot ingredients, for example, shouldn’t get them.)

“You don’t get immunized just to protect yourself. You also get immunized to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” pediatrician Dr. Aaron Carroll wrote in The New York Times in January.

5. Blowing out birthday candles

Oddly specific but fascinating: Blowing out birthday candles can drastically increase the number of microbes on a cake.

Oddly specific but fascinating: Blowing out birthday candles can drastically increase the number of microbes on a cake.
David Prahl/Shutterstock

The opportunity to blow out candles on a birthday cake comes around just once a year, but if you’re sick at your next birthday party, you might want to step away from the cake.

A study published in the Journal of Food Research found that blowing out birthday candles increased the number of bacteria on test cakes by an average of 1,400%, compared to ones that didn’t have their candles blown out, Business Insider reported in 2017. The cakes that had been blown on had a greater range of bacteria on them, too.

Of course, it’s important to remember that not every microbe you encounter is harmful. But if the birthday person is sick, it may make sense to rethink the candle tradition.

“I personally will be aware of the health status of the blower and won’t blow out candles if I’m sick,” Paul Dawson, the leading author of the study and a professor of food science at Clemson University, told Business Insider.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

Dealing with common childhood illnesses

Dealing with common childhood illnesses

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is so prevalent now in Malaysia. Is this only a disease of childhood, or do adults get it too?

HFMD is usually common in childhood, especially in children younger than five years old.

But sometimes, it can occur in older children, and even adults.

It is caused by the coxsackievirus and is generally mild.

The main symptoms are sores in your child’s mouth, and a rash on the hands and feet.

If you should develop these symptoms, especially in these endemic times, you should seek medical attention immediately, no matter what age you are.

What are the common childhood infections?

The commonest childhood infections are:

• Chickenpox

• Coughs, colds

• Ear infections

• Croup

• Measles

• Mumps

In fact, it is common for a child younger than eight years old to get as many as eight or more colds a year.

So, don’t be overly concerned that your child seems to be sicker than other children!

My child gets colds quite frequently. I always have to take leave to look after her. She sneezes and coughs a lot, and sometimes, she vomits after a bout of coughing. Should I be taking her to the doctor? It distresses me.

Coughs in children are usually the result of the common cold.

It will usually resolve by itself within five to seven days, and is not serious, especially if your child is eating, drinking and breathing normally.

You don’t even have to bring your child to the doctor if this is so.

However, if your child’s cough is very bad and does not resolve itself by seven days, then you should bring him or her to see the doctor.

Coughs like this can be caused by diseases other than the common cold virus, such as croup, whooping cough, childhood asthma, pneumonia, or even by swallowing a foreign object, such as a fishbone or a peanut.

Some of these diseases can be accompanied by high fever, breathlessness, restlessness, tiredness, a cough that is worse at night, or if your child seems very anxious and won’t eat/drink/sleep.

If so, take your child to a paediatrician immediately.

And if your child has difficulty breathing, don’t wait – take your child to the hospital straightaway.

What about a sore throat? My child doesn’t have a cough or runny nose, but he is always getting a sore throat, especially after he eats a lot of chocolates and ice-cream. Does he need antibiotics?

Most childhood sore throats are caused by viruses, including the common cold virus or the flu virus. Antibiotics would not help in these cases.

Sore throat is usually the precursor to a cold. Your child’s throat may feel dry and sore for a day or two before the actual sneezing and coughing starts.

Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days.

However, if the sore throat persists for more than four days, and if your child has a high temperature, it may be due to something more serious, like a bacteria.

This might spread further to the lungs, so it’s best to take your child to the paediatrician immediately.

Why do children get so many colds compared to teenagers and adults? Mine seems to get a cold every month!

Young children don’t have immunity yet to a lot of viruses that are out there in the community. That’s why they are easily infected.

As they age, they gradually build up immunity and get fewer colds and coughs.

This is all programmed by your body’s immune system, with lymphocytes (specialised white blood cells) that programme themselves to remember the shape of a certain virus once the body has been exposed to it.

So, the next time that same virus appears, the body can mount a very quick and effective response before the virus can even infect you.

Children who go to kindergarten, playgrounds or school, also tend to be exposed to a lot more children, who may come with all kinds of viruses.

Oh no! Is sending my child to kindergarten or school a good thing then, or should I consider home-schooling?

You cannot protect your child in a fortress. Kindergartens and schools are extremely valuable in providing your children not only education, but also interactive play and socialising.

Home-schooled children tend to lack the social aspects of this provision, which is critically important to help your children adapt to the adult world when they grow up. Remember, in many jobs, EQ is more important than IQ.

Moreover, building up immunity is necessary in a person living in a community.

So, it’s good to get mild diseases that cannot be prevented by vaccination, live through them and build up your resistance this way.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
How to figure out if you have a cold or the flu — and the best way to treat it

How to figure out if you have a cold or the flu — and the best way to treat it

  • The symptoms of a cold and the flu can often look similar, but there are some key differences.
  • Seasonal allergies are a third variable to consider.
  • The only way to get properly diagnosed is with a doctor’s visit. Knowing what you have can help determine the best treatment.

It can start with a sniffle. But before your symptoms turn into full-blown illness, you want to know: is it a cold or the flu?

Both illnesses can share a variety of symptoms. They’re also both caused by viruses. And, of course, there’s a third potential culprit to consider: allergies.

Most diagnostic detective work is best left to a doctor. But in the meantime, there are a few variables to consider that can help you narrow in on the cause of your illness.

The chief symptom of a cold is a stuffy or runny nose

If your nose feels stuffed or runny – but not itchy – and you don’t have a fever, it’s likely that you’ve been hit by a cold. Paying attention to the time of year is helpful, too. During the fall, roughly 75% of all circulating viruses are rhinoviruses, the most common cause of colds.

Here’s the good news: most colds only last three to seven days, though symptoms can linger for another week or so.

To start feeling better, avoid stocking up on vitamin C supplements, which studies suggest won’t do much for your symptoms. Instead, try a zinc lozenge – some research indicates zinc may help shorten the duration of a cold by interfering with the way rhinoviruses replicate.

sick woman on train contagious


If it’s allergies, you’ll probably be itchy and sneezy

Seasonal allergies, which typically crop up in the spring and summer, are also accompanied by nasal symptoms, but they differ in several key ways from those that characterize a cold, according to the National Institutes of Health. You’ll usually have an itchy – as opposed to a runny – nose, and your eyes will likely feel scratchy too. You’ll also probably be sneezing.

Your doctor can tell you if you suffer from an allergy and prescribe the right treatment for you. If you’re suffering from allergies, symptoms can last as long as whatever allergen triggering them remains in the air, which can be more than a month.

The flu is the worst of the three

Flu season strikes from late fall to late winter, typically peaking in February. The first thing you should do if you suspect you’ve come down with the flu is to take your temperature. Most flu cases are accompanied by a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Flu sufferers also typically experience body aches, coughs, and extreme tiredness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In people who are especially vulnerable, like older people, children, and individuals with weakened immune systems, the virus can also cause serious complications like pneumonia.

The flu can stick around in your system for longer than a cold, with symptoms like fatigue persisting up to three weeks. Individuals infected with the flu can pass it to anyone within 6 feet, and only stop being contagious once they’ve been fever-free for a full 24 hours (without the help of medication).

If you’re already sick with the flu, make sure you rest, since sleep is key to a properly functioning immune system, and keep an eye on your symptoms to be sure you don’t develop more severe complications.

If you’re not sick yet, the best defense against the virus is the flu shot. Getting vaccinated can also make the flu less miserable if you do get it.

Lauren Friedman wrote a previous version of this story.

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