“Prevention is key,” notes
Dr. Stacy Newman of
North Oaks Infectious Disease Clinic. “It is much easier, and cheaper in the long run, to prevent rather
than treat an infection.”
In addition to washing hands frequently, Dr. Newman recommends getting
your vaccinations in a timely manner.
By getting a vaccination, Dr. Newman emphasizes, you trick your body into
thinking that it has been infected by a particular microbe and improving
its defenses against subsequent infection.
“Your immune system is an amazing thing,” she said. “When
your body encounters a microbe that has previously caused an infection,
it remembers that and speeds up its production of white blood cells and
antibodies to prevent infection a second time.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer an
online scheduling tool to keep track of vaccines. You also can ask your doctor for guidance.
“Vaccinations are as important for adults as they are for children,
and yet many adults are not adequately vaccinated,” Dr. Newman continues.
“Although there has been a slight increase in adult vaccinations
in recent years, there needs to be more public awareness.”
The CDC recommends that everyone, 6 months of age and older, get a flu
vaccine annually if there is not a medical reason to avoid the vaccine.
Each year’s vaccination is designed to protect against the three
or four strains of influenza anticipated to be most commonly circulated
in the upcoming flu season.
Dr. Newman suggests that patients with asthma, heart or lung disease, diabetes
or other chronic disease need to be vaccinated because their immune systems
may be compromised.
“The pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent serious disease, such as
pneumonia, meningitis and blood infection,” she notes. “Most
patients with chronic conditions should get it because they may be at
increased risk for these infections.”
Some vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, are recommended for adults, 60
and older. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
It can cause a severe and painful skin rash, and the risk increases as
a person ages.
Although antibiotics have been commonly available since the 1940s and have
been helpful in fighting infections like pneumonia, overuse of antibiotics
is making some infections hard to treat, Dr. Newman adds. Antibiotic resistance
occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the
effectiveness of an antibiotic.
Dr. Newman notes that patients should educate themselves about when antibiotics
are needed to fight bacterial infections. “They are not helpful
in fighting viruses, like colds, flu, coughs and bronchitis. When you
use them properly, you do what is best for your health,” she explains.
In addition to vaccination, follow these health habits to prevent the spread
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Throw the tissue in the trash after use. It’s better to sneeze into
the crook of your arm than your hand.
Wash your hands frequently.
The CDC recommends washing thoroughly and vigorously with soap and water
for at least 20 seconds, followed by hand drying with a paper towel. If
you don’t have running water, an alcohol-based hand gel or wipe will do.
Use safe cooking practices.
Foodborne illnesses frequently arise from poor food preparation and dining
habits. Refrigerate food within 2 hours of preparation. Use separate cutting
boards for raw meats and vegetables.
Be a smart traveler.
Infectious diseases can easily be picked up while traveling. Make sure
your water is safe to drink, and brush your teeth. Eat foods that have
been cooked, and avoid raw vegetables and fruits. Be sure your immunizations
Follow your health care provider’s instructions for staying home.
In general, it is recommended that you stay home until your symptoms are
no longer being controlled by fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours.
For more information on vaccinations and the use of antibiotics, see Dr.
Newman’s videos at