My girls are back in school and so far I’ve spent one evening at urgent care nursing strep and one night in the emergency room with an allergic reaction to strep medication. My granddaughter is covered in blisters from Hand-Foot-Mouth disease and I don’t even want to imagine what kind of infectious things lurk among the toy aisle at Wal-mart. Yes, school has begun with each classroom the perfect Petri dish of human contagions.
It seems to be a matter of courtesy and common sense to me that we keep our children home from school when they are sick. It also seems something impossibly difficult for parents who juggle three kids at two schools and who work two jobs in the hope of not using the credit card this month for food. So semi-sick kids pass all sorts of junk back and forth at school. Gladly most of the conditions are more irritating than serious and there is some hope of hormesis meaning that those infected will become a bit more inured against further infection.
To help stem the tide of infection and to reduce the incidence of chest burns from mentholated petroleum jelly, I wrote this quick little guide to keep you and those around free from viral infection. I include it here because it works for grown-ups, too!
Viruses are different from bacterium in that they require a host cell to replicate. They have no means of metabolism, no waste to process, nothing normally associated with live beings. What they do have is a small and diabolically useful bit of DNA that they insert into a cell. Once in the cell, the new snippet of DNA takes over cellular activity and sets the host’s replicating machinery to making copies of viral DNA. When the cell has depleted its resources it dies, bursts open, and releases new virions that swarm about infecting other cells.
So how to prevent infection? General rules to avoiding the flu (another viral infection) apply. The main rule is to keep the virus out of your body. It’s that easy and that difficult.
- Your skin is a wonderful organ that acts as a barrier between the inner you and your environment. Take good care of it. Skin is awash in bacteria and viruses that never cause harm because they are unable to penetrate. A layer of dead cells over the epidermis prevents most pathogens from entering the body. So take care of even the smallest cuts, blemishes, and scratches. Imagine a screen door with a tear – really, what good does it do?
- Besides your skin, remember to protect against other entries into the body. Ears, nose, eyes, mouth, anus, urethra, vagina. ‘Nough said.
- Avoid body fluids other than your own. Blood, vomit, urine, feces, snot – if from an infected person will likely carry infection. One should, theoretically, be able to protect against these with gloves and protective clothing but it can be difficult to maintain that barrier. Avoid, too, touching clothing or sheets from infected persons. There is some controversy as to whether or not tears, sweat, and saliva can transmit viruses. Error conservatively.
- Viruses can and are transmitted sexually.
- Viruses can be transmitted between some species. It appears that Ebola transmits seamlessly between bats, monkeys, and humans. Prion diseases such as Mad-cow disease can transmit between, cows, deer, humans, and even squirrels. This is a function of our evolutionary heritage and connectedness with other mammals. But most viruses are host specific. There are legions of plant viruses as well. None of them infect humans due to our different cellular structure.
- Anything – door handles, seats, drinking glasses – can carry the disease if handled by an infected person who has left traces of body fluids on surfaces. Protect barriers and wash often.
- It appears that cooked food it safe. Viruses respond differently to environmental conditions and Ebola breaks down in the presence of UV light and heat.
- Ebola is not considered an airborne virus but it is entirely plausible to me that it can be carried locally – between people – riding on sprays from coughing or sneezing.
The best protection is health. Healthy living, healthy eating, healthy habits. This puts your body in the very best position to battle any invaders that may breach the barrier.
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