Defend yourself against germs

We can protect ourselves from the germs that cross our path.
BY GREG CALLIGARO for YOU Pulse magazine

On a personal level there’s much we can do to protect ourselves from the germs that cross our path. Condom use and safer sexual practices – strategies that rely on the cooperation of individuals, not scientists or doctors – remain mainstays in the battle against HIV/Aids.

Today a simple measure such as washing your hands is just as important in preventing infections in a hospital from spreading as it was when it was first proposed in the 19th century.

Making sure your children receive all their immunisations is still one of the most effective ways of protecting them against potentially devastating viruses such as measles and polio.

There isn’t necessarily a ‘‘pill for every ill’’ and it’s worth looking at alternative strategies. You can eat spicy foods to help your body fight a cold (chillies contain a natural decongestant), eat cabbage to treat an ulcer (cabbage juice contains a substance called sulforaphane that kills the bacterium Helicobacter pylori which causes 90 per cent of ulcers) or suck zinc lozenges if you have a sore throat (studies have shown zinc boosts the body’s immune system).

Personal hygiene fights germs
Your mother was right. Much of the advice doctors give to avoid infection by household germs is just old-fashioned hygiene – wash your fruit and vegetables, scrub your cutting board after using it for raw meat and use bleach which, despite the slew of fancy cleaning products on supermarket shelves, is still an effective cleaner for just about anything.

But germs are all around us and no matter how hard we try we’ll never be able to completely avoid getting sick.

Our best strategy to combat illness is to keep our immune system in fighting readiness – stress, cigarette smoke, a poor diet and lack of sleep contribute to weaken the immune system and leave us open to infection and make it harder to recover from an illness.

It’s better to take a few precautions and keep yourself healthy than to rush to the doctor: prevention, as always, is better than cure.

(This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS magazine, Autumn 2008. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.)

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How a flu epidemic could hit the world

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