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Battle the bugs – tips to avoid dangerous nasties

Did you know that a sneeze can travel 30m or that germs from your toilet can reach your toothbrush when you flush?

Invisible but potentially life-threatening bugs are everywhere. However, there are plenty of simple measures we can take to keep ourselves and others safe.

“There are more bacteria on the surface of our skin than there are skin cells,” says Heather Leslie, director of infection prevention and control at Benenden Hospital. “Excellent hygiene is vital to the hospital to keep patients, staff and visitors free from any infection. We have a very good record and have never had a case of an MRSA bacteraemia or E. coli, and our last case of C.difficile was in 2002.”

Preventing the spread of bugs is key to the hospital’s success and using the same principles at home can reduce the chances of illness.

Five ways you can help avoid bugs:

1. Be as healthy as possible

A healthy diet – at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day – as well as getting enough sleep and avoiding stress helps your immune system to function properly, meaning you’re less likely to become ill.

2. Avoid contact with infection

If somebody has a cold or gastric infection, avoiding them is the safest way to stay healthy. If you have a cold or bug, it’s best to avoid others. People on medication, those who are recovering from illness or surgery, older people and the very young (whose immune systems haven’t fully developed) are all very vulnerable to infections.

A sneeze that’s not captured can travel 30m. Vomit particles can travel very far too, and contact with just one can be infectious.

3. Wash and dry your hands well and frequently

Hand hygiene is the most effective way of avoiding cross-infection. Around 40% of us have MRSA bacteria on our skin, and we pick up other bacteria all day, so we need to wash our hands well with soap before food preparation or eating; after going to the toilet; before and after being in contact with anyone who is unwell; and any time we have contact with bacteria, such as when changing cat litter.

Drying hands after washing them well with soap is also vital. Wet hands are as dangerous as dirty hands.

4. Keep your house as clean as possible

Bacteria can remain active on surfaces, so deep, antibacterial cleaning of all surfaces helps to prevent the spread of germs. It is particularly important to clean toilets, bathrooms and kitchens – germs from your toilet can travel six metres if you don’t close the lid before flushing.

Most kitchen cloths are full of bacteria, so use disposable cloths or wash yours at a high temperature and use disinfectant.

While some may argue that a bit of dirt doesn’t harm, it can be very harmful if it’s passed on to someone who is susceptible to illness, such as those with a compromised immune system.

5. Observe food safety rules

Use different chopping boards for raw and cooked meat, and have separate chopping boards for raw vegetables and fruit. Contaminated meat can harbour salmonella, E. coli or campylobacter – the most common cause of food poisoning.

It’s vital to have separate kitchen utensils for raw meat and to keep the meat well wrapped and away from other foods in your refrigerator.