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Virtually almost any place on the face of the planet is thriving with various microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasites, and fungal spores that can be transmitted to humans and cause a wide array of diseases. Even inside our very own bodies; our intestines also contain billions of “helpful” bacteria that aids in the digestive processes. However, despite their usefulness, they may also be capable of doing otherwise--when the balance between these microbes and our bodies is disturbed.
Human illnesses can be caused by various microorganisms and their by-products. And because they are found everywhere, it is not impossible that we may harbor them at any point in our lifetime and result into minor nuisances like common cold to fatal diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Microbes can be transmitted through many ways. In between humans, they can be passed on directly by skin contact, sneezing, coughing, blood to blood transmission, or sexual activity. In some diseases, an infected pregnant woman can also pass the microbes to the fetus in her womb. They can also be transmitted indirectly when an infected person comes in contact with an environmental surface and contaminating them, and then others may acquire the microbes by touching the surface or ingest a contaminated substance. Some microbes can be spread into the body through a vector or carrier, usually an insect, or an infected animal.
Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases
From time to time, new infectious diseases turn up and raise public concern. Some of these include HIV infection, Legionnaire’s disease, Anthrax, Severe Acquired Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola virus, and Lyme disease have even provided real-life scares.
Emerging diseases arise from genetic changes or evolution of an existing organism creating a new strain that spreads suddenly in new geographic areas or populations. At least 30 new strains have been identified over the past two decades and threaten to increase in the future. Similarly, re-emerging infectious diseases are illnesses brought about by microorganisms that have been previously identified and controlled but are now resistant to common antimicrobial drugs such as in the case of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
For this reason, there is a large possibility that in the future, such infectious diseases may pose greater problems. Firstly, because of the simple genetic makeup, microbes can mutate easily into deadly resistant strains. To add to that, large numbers of the world population are misusing and self-medicating with antibiotics to treat infections which causes them to lose their ability to combat common infections. A good example for this is the bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is found to have developed resistance to antibiotics like penicillins and cephalosporins.
Poverty, overpopulation, overcrowding, population shifts, and improper sanitation among certain areas have also largely contributed to the rapidly propagate. The globalization of world commerce may also mean that contaminated foods, plants, and other products cross various international borders daily. Changes in human habits too, have expedited the spread of infectious agents, particularly in terms of eating habits, lifestyle, sexual activity, and increased substance abuse.
What You Can Do
Simple principles of food and water sanitation, safe sex, hygiene, appropriate use of antibiotics, immunization, and regular visits to the physician could help prevent millions of deaths from ailments caused by infectious diseases every year. Here are a few, simple, common sense practices that can help:
1. As much as possible avoid self-medicating with antibiotics. Overuse or improper use of antibacterial agents will only increase bacterial resistance to the drug, so that the next time you will encounter the same microorganism, it will be more resistant to that drug. This means that the drug has little or no effect on the microbes, and there will be a need to use a higher and stronger dose of medication. Drug-resistant strains can be easily transmitted to susceptible persons and treatment can be very complicated. Hence, to prevent such, use antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your physician, and make sure to finish the entire prescription.
2. Avoid unsafe and unprotected sex, and refrain from intravenous drug use.
3. Observe cleanliness in handling, storage, and cooking food products to guard against food-borne illnesses. Wash hands often with warm water and soap. And ensure cleanliness around the area where you prepare food.
4. When travelling, learn about disease threats around the area you are visiting. Consult your physician for prophylactic medication or immunization.
5. Children must be immunized against a particular disease.
6. Be cautious with unfamiliar and wild animals.
7. When sick, give yourself some time to recover. Avoid coughing or sneezing on others.