Infectious disease is all around us making news headlines daily:
Ebola is a major news story right now. Horrifying images from Western Africa are appearing on our televisions and in our news feeds, and many people fear the disease will spread to our shores.
While Ebola is a terrible disease, it is fortunately not airborne. “There is no evidence that Ebola is spread by coughing or sneezing,” according to the United States Center for Disease Control. “Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola. The virus is not air borne or transmitted through the air like the measles virus.”
So, we can all let out a sigh of relief on that one, as airborne Ebola is an intensely frightening prospect.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re totally in the clear. There are still a number of airborne infectious diseases floating around our offices, homes, and recreational areas. Influenza, the ‘flu,’ remains one of the most deadly viruses in North America and is one we should all take steps to protect ourselves against. We’re deep into flu season now, so how can you protect yourself against airborne infectious diseases and viruses like the flu?
First, we need to understand how airborne infections are spread. According to Maine’s Division of Infectious Disease,
Airborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microbes small enough to be discharged from an infected person via coughing, sneezing, laughing and close personal contact or aerosolization of the microbe. The discharged microbes remain suspended in the air on dust particles, respiratory and water droplets. Illness is caused when the microbe is inhaled or contacts mucus membranes or when secretions remaining on a surface are touched.
Protecting yourself and those around you from airborne infections begins with keeping the air in your environment clean and as pathogen free as possible.
A simple step to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases is practicing proper social and respiratory etiquette. Staying home when ill, keeping close contact with an ill person to a minimum, allowing a few feet distance from others while ill, wearing a mask, and covering coughs and sneezes with elbow or tissue can greatly reduce transmission.
Good hand washing techniques are also a must. Keeping your hands clean can decrease the spread of germ-containing droplets that could be picked up on hands from surfaces or hand contact with secretions.
Environmental controls and engineering alternatives can also help reduce transmission of water droplet aerosolized pathogens. A HEPA filter or other air filter can pull the harmful pathogens out of the air and help keep the air in your home, work, medical facility, or public spaces cleaner and less likely to carry infections.
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