Karin & David Henderson

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Maple Ridge, B.C.

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604-463-8666 (PST)

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Personal Infection Control - Making Sure You Are Healthy Enough To Withstand Unhealthy Conditions

Recently I came across a picture of a health care worker taking a motorist's temperature via a hand held temperature device. This led me to ponder what a person needs to know in order to protect themselves from being unwittingly exposed to infectious elements.

There are many unrecognized and potentially-infectious situations. Many times you are exposed to them and don't even know it. But if you suspect something, your choices are to be proactive or to be reactive. Prevention or treatment. Personally I think prevention is healthier, less painful and more cost effective.

To keep from getting ill, you may want to take some preventative measures. You will need to recognize a possible risk. And if you are exposed you would want to know how you could protect yourself and keep from getting sick. To start this learning process, you need to know what is in place right now to protect you.

Your body has a very sophisticated protective system, including a immune system and inflammatory processes, plus many other functions that protect you "behind the scenes".

First I'll outline some "internal matters" and then follow with some external ones. This will include the cycle of infection and how to recognize what is coming at you. If you don't recognize the risk, you are at its mercy. As always, this information is an overview and is for educational purposes. I would encourage you to do a lot of research because this subject is not only very involved but vitally important and your well being.

It goes without saying that a healthy body is your first and most important line of defense. It is your best protection. Your body's main area of defense is the immune system. We often hear about our immune system in terms of being improved by certain
vitamins. But in actual fact your immune system is very complex and performs many different functions. A few individual vitamins will not fill all its requirements. A strong immune system will keep you healthy for a long time. But once it has exhausted its
supply of nutrients and can't borrow any more from any part of its system, things start to breakdown. It also stands to reason that the more you look after it, and the less you give it to "correct" or render harmless, the longer it will serve you.

In this article we are going to focus on infections as we are faced with many unknowns. You simply can't live your life in isolation from the rest of the world...and it's that collective "world" that gives us the unhealthy problems.  (However I do know of people who tiptoe through life hoping they will get to the other end without too much trouble!)

Frequently, people ask what to do with a specific condition. My initial response always is "build up your immune system". We have so many choices to make. Lack of knowledge leads to indecision. Flu shots: do we take them or not. Will I get the avian flu? Will I get hepatitis from a toilet seat? Should I wear a mask when I fly next time? We are naturally surrounded by toxins in all manner of forms. And all this adds to the
confusion. When you can't get facts, you don't make decisions and then you wait...for what? Direction.

I will list a few preventative measures and some ways of identifying potential risks. I will also demonstrate how the cycle of infections works and what you can do to protect yourself. At least armed with some information, you can make a choice and later on, learn more. You are constantly under attack from frequent invaders of your body, including infections. These come from organisms that get into your body. It automatically and naturally sets up its defense measures via the immune system.  Its purpose is to get rid of a lot of these undesirable invaders. The most common invaders are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Each category has many forms and variations. Bacteria cause skin, respiratory urinary tract, and blood circulation problems. In most instances they are regionalized or localized. Examples are boils, strep throat, tonsillitis, etc.

Viruses cause more systemic problems and may affect the liver and the overall body. Examples would be shingles, hepatitis, and AIDS. Fungi invade the skin and mucous membranes. (They love the warm moist atmosphere!) Examples of common fungal infections are athletes foot, thrush, Valley Fever, vaginitis. Protozoa are relatively infrequent invaders to many people, but when they occur, they cause a lot of damage. They are found mostly in water supplies but they also occur in the digestive tracts of
some animals. And these can be directly transmitted to humans. An example of a water-borne protozoan infection is Giardiasis. An example of a digestive invader infection is Cryptosporidiosis.

Most of us are exposed unwittingly or unknowingly, so you only become aware of a problem when symptoms appear. How can you prevent them from affecting you negatively. What do you look for?

Let's look at a cycle of infection. It is important to note that although it SEEMS hopeless, you do have a lot of control. You can take preventative measures once you recognize that you may have come in contact with the "invader". At each step of this
cycle there is an opportunity for you to halt the spread of microorganisms. And that will most likely prevent further infectious spread to others. But it does require some action on your part. First of all you won't know what to do if you don't recognize the "risk". So become aware of high-risk areas. They would include schools, offices, public places, and medical clinics (very obvious) to name just few. Be aware of any place where people gather and the microorganisms can go from person to person quickly. And remember that air currents and body heat make this even easier to spread. (All I'm doing now is raising your awareness levels.)

This cycle of infection sounds a little confusing, but I'll give you an example further along. You are dealing with a formula that includes two HOSTS, an infectious (causative) AGENT, METHODS OF TRANSMISSION, and ENTRY and EXIT points.

First you have to have an infectious AGENT. Without it, you don't need to worry. Some microorganisms are harmful and some are not. For instance, you can have the bacteria called E. Coli in your digestive tract and that is good. It helps to digest your foods. But if it finds its way into your skin, into your eye, or into your surgical site, that's bad. There is also another "angle" to the agent or pathogen (harmful microorganism) to be a problem for you. A few probably won't do much harm. A lot can do a lot of damage. So numbers count. This is called the "bioburden".

The next part of the cycle is a HOST and that is a person. You, as this HOST, now become the nice growing environment for this multiply. Often there is an incubation period. This is when the microorganisms grow in numbers, but really don't give you a hint you are involved. Eventually you show signs and symptoms, and know you are now "infectious". It stands to reason that a weaker person takes fewer microorganisms to make them ill. If your body is healthy enough and the microorganism can't get a foothold, the infectious agent just gets rendered harmless by the body's defense mechanisms.

Next, every "infection" cycle has to include a way for the infectious agent to leave (EXIT point) your body (HOST). (If it stays with the original person because it can't get out, the infection won't spread.) This exit point can be through a cut, a touch, a cough, or a sneeze. Exit and entry points can be the same.

Once the microorganisms find their way OUT of your body, they need to find their way TO the next host. This is called the "METHOD OF TRANSMISSION": (Not into: just TO.)

"Modes of transmission" can be through direct and indirect methods. Direct methods are touch and contact of the host's microorganism directly to the new host. An example would be a kiss. Examples of indirect "sharing" are door handles or sharing of
food or toothbrushes, or any utensils that go from one person's mouth to another. Water-borne is another method of spreading as in protozoan infections.

Something of interest is that these microorganisms don't have wings to fly to their new host. They have to be carried along on something, often on dust particles that float on air currents. So you can see that this will be an indirect way of sharing microorganisms. The cycle is completed when the microorganisms find another (inviting) HOST.

The entry point to the new host could be the cut on the lip or the break in the mucous membrane of the nose or mouth. But again, as with the numbers (bioburden), there have to be enough to weaken the new host. And that host has to be vulnerable or have a weakened immune system, so the bug can get a foothold.

I think it would be helpful to illustrate this with Tom (original host), Fred (new host), and Mo (the microorganism). I'll add the cycle parts in brackets. From what you already know you will be able to spot places where you now know you can take control and break this cycle. I'll use bacteria for my example but understand that the course of action is pretty much the same for all groups of microorganisms.

Mo is our invader (AGENT). It is an infectious agent that has invaded Tom's body (HOST) because this body has little resistance due to a weak immune system. It is the perfect place for Mo to grow and increase in numbers. This body supplies Mo and friends with all the nutrients needed to grow rapidly. Tom valiantly struggled at home and has now decided he has been away from work long enough. It is time to go back. Tom carpools. He now joins his buddies the car pool, "sharing" Mo and his many friends with Fred who is one of the riders. Tom sneezes and coughs frequently. Mo's friends (infectious AGENTS) are continually leaving Tom's body (EXIT point) and seeking a home elsewhere (ENTRY point). And because the car pool riders are within close proximity, they are exposed to these invaders. (METHOD OF TRANSMISSION). Cough droplets can spread to a 3-foot diameter. As Fred rides along in this car, he is breathing in all those agents. He is now one of the new hosts. He has little choice. (Unwilling and unknowing.) How can Mo be stopped? If Tom uses a facial tissue and covers his mouth and nose with each cough and sneeze, and then discards them carefully, no one else needs to be at a major risk. If he washes his hands it would be
very helpful for him personally. But the environment is still filled with infectious material (AGENTS). So Fred needs to have a very healthy immune system to override the invaders. Or he could excuse himself and leave the car. Or Tom could stay home. If Fred's body is healthy, it will immediately create a inflammatory response (defence mechanism) that would overwhelm Mo (the microorganisms) and prevent further damage. If the droplets are not close to Fred or anyone else in that car, they could live outside of a human body for a few hours (sometimes up to 24 hours) or they could grow a strong resistive cover (spore) and live much longer.

Can you see how this could happen to you? Can you see how a cut on your hand or a sore on the lip or an open wound will be a way for microorganisms to enter your body? And if you are not too healthy, you can become the HOST for an infection? Once the infection takes a foothold, it will grow in numbers, find a way to leave your body, float on a cloud of dust to some other unsuspecting, but not too healthy person and lands another home. And so it continues until people get treated with antibiotics (unless your immune system is strong enough to overcome them), which will eventually kill the microorganisms. Hopefully they won't change their makeup and become resistant to antibiotics.

So far, we have discussed respiratory bacteria but there is another strong and very serious one that causes much grief. Staph Aureus is another very harmful microorganism. It resides on the skin naturally and it's perfectly acceptable there. But when it invades your body, it causes all sorts of problems. It is the most common infection found in hospitals and it tends to transform itself ever so slightly, and thus become resistant to some antibiotics. Why do we care about this agent? Because it is a good example of a direct method of transmission or spread. It is so easy to eliminate from your life by proper and frequent handwashing.

A word about handwashing
You might want to ask yourself why hand washing so important. Microorganisms can stay on (outside) your body for hours before dying. If you have been exposed to something infectious, and your skin is intact, all is well. Wash your hands and get rid of it. That way you can't pass any potential infection indirectly to anyone else. But suppose you now scrape or cut yourself and still have this infectious agent on your arm. Chances are you will see some sort of inflammation occur. And now your immune system has to deal with both the trauma of the scrape and the infection... unnecessarily. Incidentally, if you do have a scrape, cover it up when out in public. That prevents any further possible spread of your infection and you receiving something unwanted in return.

It really puzzles me why people don't wash their hands often and properly. In this day of international travel and communication, there is no excuse for everyone NOT washing their hands after using any toilet facilities, and that includes the "male" group. You wash your hands before you eat so you don't eat the invisible bugs that are "hanging out" there. Why would a person not wash their hands AFTER they knowingly come in contact with bugs after using the washroom facilities??? (I'll step off my soapbox now.)


For any infectious condition to occur, you need to realize that a pathogen or infectious agent needs to find some way to go from one host to another. Otherwise that's the end of the infection. Therefore, if you kill the microorganism, or eliminate the method of transmission, or stop it from leaving or entering another host, you will have either stopped it altogether or slowed it to the point it doesn't do any more damage. And that is the goal.

Most media attention centers around respiratory infections because they are easily spread to unsuspecting victims. Those who are healthy escape the statistics. Those who are weak for whatever reason end up sick. Many get caught in this cycle of infection unless they know what to do to help themselves.  So staff in public places such as schools, shopping centers, offices, and many other areas watch this cycle go through their facilities. That's why people get flu shots. It offers some awareness.

You are reading this health related article because you are interested in health: yours in particular. This is an important issue. Now that you are aware of possible places to pick up infections, plan your life a little differently. The next meeting you attend, pay attention to who is coughing or sneezing. Stay away from that area. Avoid places you are likely to pick up germs. If you have to go, then take precautionary measures to limit your risks. Avoid being in close proximity to people who are coughing. Wash you hands frequently if you are touching door handles, or other people's possessions. Make sure your skin is intact. If you do have a cut, cover it and treat it promptly and properly. Keep your immune system healthy and well fed. Know what your entire body needs to keep you living the life you want to live. Keep it in good working order. Plan consciously where you go and what you might be exposed to. Don't avoid going: just be prepared. Please avoid being a slave to this concept and suspect an infection with every person. That is totally unnecessarily. Do recognize the need to be careful and if you have children, help them to develop this awareness and some healthful habits. Your lives may depend on it. As with most things in life, you are responsible for your self. So protect yourself by learning these basic principles. Become aware of your own body's needs and supply them. Participate actively in one of the world's best wonders: your existence!


By Karin Henderson - Nurse, Retired.



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