During cold and flu season, illness can spread like wildfire, but how exactly do these viruses and infections develop and spread, especially in an environment where it seems as though no one has been sick?

How Illnesses Develop

Illnesses and infections can develop as long as there is space for germs to grow. While our bodies do live in tandem with a vast number of bacteria, foreign germs that can cause harm to the body need to be introduced to the immune system from an outside source. Germs can grow on many surfaces, especially in public places where many people have access to things we touch every day. Over time, these germs grow and develop into illnesses that can be detrimental to our bodies.

Spreading Illness

When an illness begins to spread, it starts with someone susceptible first. Since anyone can potentially be susceptible to foreign bacteria, the most common way for an illness to spread is simply coming into contact with someone who may be infected. Infections can spread through animals and people (in the form of bodily fluids) and can enter the body through our most susceptible areas: the mucus membranes. Mucous membranes include our eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.

Another way for illnesses to spread is by indirect contact. For example, if someone who is sick touches a public phone with unwashed hands, others who come into contact with the public phone may get sick as well, especially if they put their mouths close to the receiver. Insect bites and cross-contamination via food are other ways germs can spread without coming into direct contact with someone.

Preventing Illness

Of course, there are many ways that we can prevent the spread and development of illnesses, even when sick. Washing hands, covering coughs, and staying home when sick are all excellent ways to avoid spreading germs. Individuals can also avoid coming into contact with people who are sick and avoid touching their eyes, nose, ears, and mouth with unwashed hands. Maintaining a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and managing stress with healthy coping mechanisms can also prevent illness by keeping your immune system in top form.

Face masks are another popular way to help prevent spreading germs and are especially efficient when combating highly contagious illnesses. Vaccines can also prevent the spread of germs by preparing our bodies to fight off foreign bacteria in situations where we come into contact with an illness.

As always, if you are feeling unwell, speak with your doctor. You know your body best!

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