Difference between revisions of "Staying Germ-Free During the Winter Months"
(Created page with "Author: Giles Ru'Orden Sniffle, cough, sneeze, ahh the wonderful chorus of winter. This beautiful, yet miserable time of year is responsible for many issues that affect...")
Latest revision as of 22:06, 14 November 2019
Author: Giles Ru'Orden
Sniffle, cough, sneeze, ahh the wonderful chorus of winter. This beautiful, yet miserable time of year is responsible for many issues that affect people enduring the colder months. It's true that wearing gloves, scarves, and hats are useful to combat frigid temperatures and that equipping yourself with big burly boots to navigate slippery paths are useful winter tools, but they are not the only dangers that you should be worried about. Yes, you know what I'm talking about; I'm talking about preparing and arming yourself against infection and more specifically viral infection.
Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses, estimates that there are around 10 to the 31st viruses on our earth. In other words, if you stacked each virus on top of each other, they would extend about 100 million light years. Pretty amazing when you think about it, but lets bring it back to how that affects us as humans. According to the CDC, the influenza virus infects five to twenty percent of the US population each flu season. These numbers do not include the entire gamut of other viruses that circulate our planet. These other viruses include 200 different viruses responsible for causing colds (Rhinovirus being the most common), respiratory syncytial virus, and norovirus (the stomach bug) just to name a few. Needless to say, it is difficult to find someone who is not aware of another person being sick or they themselves becoming sick from some virus related ailment. This leads us to ask the question, what exactly is this thing that causes so much trouble?
A virus is a collection of genetic material that is directed towards one objective: replication. To this end, viruses are known as obligate intracellular parasites that hijack the metabolic and genetic functions of living cells. Once a virus has entered a host and infected a suitable cell, the normal host cell function seizes and the viral replication process begins. As the viral replicates begin to fill up the interior space of the cell, they can be slowly released via budding or can actually cause the cell to burst allowing new viral replicates to infect adjacent cells. As the immune system in the host's body begins to recognize and attack the invading virus and virally infected host cells, the body will respond, begin to control, and then eliminate the virus. So, how do viruses spread from host to host?
The spread of viruses (or transmission) is more commonly seen during the colder months because of one basic fact; we are indoors more. This closed circuit system allows for virus particles to be easily spread because there is a lack of fresh air. This desire to preserve warmth added with a large number of people in close proximity to one another spells out a recipe for viral success. Coughing and sneezing are two great ways to spread a virus. During these actions, large particle droplets are released and a susceptible person in close range (less than or equal to 1 meter (~3.3ft)) can then potentially become infected. Another means is by physical contact. Humans, by and large, are very touchy feely (shaking hands, hugging, kissing, etc). Coughing and sneezing into your hand or rubbing a runny nose on the back of your hand and then shaking someone's hand, is an ideal way to spread infection. So, what can we do to prevent or reduce the spread of infection?
One of the more proactive ways to control the spread of more serious infections is by getting vaccinated. With medical insurance, vaccines can be free or relatively inexpensive. If you are not in the vein of getting vaccinated, the two best things you can do for yourself and those around you, is to wash your hands often and be aware of where you cough or sneeze. Washing for 20 seconds, the equivalent of ìHappy Birthdayî twice or ìRow, Row, Row Your Boatî twice, with soap and warm water can severely reduce your chances of becoming infected or spreading infection to others. If you are sick, cover your nose and mouth and cough or sneeze into your shirt, into your elbow, or into a single-use tissue. Do not use a rag (or anything reusable that you have to touch with your hands). It is also a good idea to carry around a small supply of hand sanitizer like Purell if you are unable to wash your hands. If you are not sick and want to stay that way, try to avoid touching your face with your hands or other objects. One of the main ways viruses get into our body is through orifices like the eyes, nose, and mouth. By combining awareness and proactivity, you can severely reduce your likelihood of becoming infected.
Overall, the colder months are a breeding ground for infection because of the close proximity of suitable hosts and lack of fresh air. However, there are steps you can take to eliminate sickness and reduce the spread of infection. Educate yourself about the topic and think about others before you cough or sneeze. No one wants to be sick. So, do your part to live a happy and healthy life by staying germ-free during the winter.