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Ten ways to prevent infections and illnesses

Germs can be found in any place in any season, so it is important to take preventive action to lower your risk for contracting — and spreading — serious illnesses and infections. There are several steps we can all take each day to do our part in protecting ourselves and others.

“Practicing healthy habits year-round prevents the transmission of germs from person to person,” says Lynnelle Murrell, RN, BSN, CIC, director of infection prevention at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia. “This in turn can help decrease the amount of illness in our community. The last year-and-a-half has shown how being more careful with infection prevention measures can decrease our numbers of COVID as well as non-COVID illnesses caused by viruses like the flu and common cold.”

According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, 10 ways to prevent infections include:

  1. Clean your hands often. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”) as the single most effective way to prevent infections and illnesses. If water and soap are not readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  2. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth and continue to mask appropriately. Touching your eyes, nose and mouth is a common way to become ill. In addition, some viruses — like COVID-19 — are spread by inhaling microdroplets from contagious individuals. Masking when transmission is high in our area is a key part of preventing COVID-19.
  3. Get vaccinated. Vaccines play a vital role in reducing your risk for getting sick and spreading certain illnesses to others. Learn more about the importance of immunizations — including the COVID-19 and flu vaccines — at
  4. Keep your environment clean. Regularly cleaning and disinfecting your home environment helps prevent the transmission of germs that can make you sick. While cleaning, don’t forget high touch areas, such as door handles and light switches. What other surfaces do you frequently touch? Make sure to clean those, too.
  5. Prioritize wellness and self-care. This can take the form of staying hydrated, maintaining good hygiene and finding a healthy balance of exercise, diet and sleep.
  6. If you are sick and your physician prescribes an antibiotic, take all of it unless your physician tells you otherwise. The CDC recommends that antibiotics should only be used to treat conditions caused by bacterial infections — such as pneumonia, sepsis, strep throat and urinary tract infections — and not for viral illnesses like a cold or the flu. If antibiotics are prescribed, it is important to take them exactly as instructed by your health care provider. If antibiotics are not taken correctly, there is an increased risk of developing antibiotic resistance, which means the bacteria are developing the ability to defeat and resist the antibiotics designed to kill them.  This can make it harder to treat infections and they can more easily spread to other people.
  7. Practice food safety. To prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, wash your hands and cooking surfaces often when preparing food, be certain to cook food to the correct temperature, separate foods to avoid cross-contamination, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water and keep cold foods cold. Learn more about food safety at
  8. Stay home if you’re sick. Common signs of illness include runny nose, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. If your condition worsens, seek care. For information about COVID-19 symptoms and stay-at-home guidelines, visit
  9. Cover your coughs and sneezes. When you cough, sneeze or talk, you introduce microscopic droplets into the air that can transmit certain illnesses to others. (This is why masking has been so imperative during the ongoing pandemic.) Instead of coughing or sneezing into your hand, use a tissue and dispose of it. If you do not have any tissues available, cover your mouth with your arm or the crook of your elbow when sneezing or coughing.
  10. Do not share personal items — including razors, toothbrushes, cups, forks or other dining utensils, lip balm, etc. — with others. These items can all be sources of bacteria and viruses and, if shared, can spread those viruses to others.

For more information about preventing illnesses and infections, check out these infographics from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology:

Lynnelle Murrell, RN, BSN, CIC, is the director of infection prevention at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia.