Six Ways to Protect Your Health
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN NIGERIA
ACCORDING to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 25 percent of the people who live in the developing world do not have access to safe water. Over 66 percent—at least 2.5 billion people—lack adequate sanitation. The consequences for many are disease and death.
In such circumstances, maintaining good hygiene is a challenge. Yet, if you make personal hygiene a way of life, you will protect yourself against many diseases. Here are six steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from germs that can enter your body and cause ill health.
1. Wash your hands with soap and water after contact with feces and before handling food.
An important way to prevent illness is to make sure that soap and water are always available so that everyone in your family can wash their hands. Soap and water remove germs from the hands—germs that might otherwise get into food or the mouth. Since young children frequently put their fingers into their mouths, it is important to wash their hands often, especially before giving them food.
It is particularly important to wash your hands with soap after using the toilet, before you handle food, and after cleaning the bottom of a baby or a child who has just defecated.
2. Use a latrine.
To prevent the spread of germs, it is vital to properly dispose of feces. Many illnesses, especially diarrhea, come from germs in human feces. These germs can get into drinking water or food, onto the hands, or onto utensils and surfaces used in preparing or serving food. When that happens, people can swallow the germs and become sick.
To help prevent this, use a latrine. The feces of animals should be kept away from homes and water sources. You may be surprised to learn that the feces of babies and small children are more dangerous than those of adults. So even youngsters should be taught to use a latrine. When children defecate elsewhere, their feces should be immediately cleaned up and put down the latrine or buried.
Latrines should be kept clean and covered.
3. Use clean water.
Families who have a plentiful supply of clean, piped water get sick less often than those who do not. Those who do not have piped water can protect their health by keeping wells covered and by keeping wastewater away from water used for drinking, bathing, or washing. It is also important to keep animals out of the house and away from drinking water.
Another way to protect yourself from disease is to keep buckets, ropes, and jars used to collect and store water as clean as possible. It is better, for example, to hang up a bucket rather than to leave it on the ground.
Drinking water kept in the home should be kept in a clean, covered container. Removing water from that container should be done with a clean ladle or cup. Do not allow people to put their hands into the drinking water or to drink directly from the water storage container.
4. Boil drinking water unless it comes from a safe piped supply.
The safest drinking water usually comes from a piped supply. Water from other sources is more likely to contain germs, though it may look clean.
Boiling water kills germs. So when you draw water from ponds, streams, or tanks, it is wise to bring it to a boil and then let it cool before drinking it. Germ-free drinking water is especially important for babies and young children, since they have less resistance to germs than adults do.
If it is not possible to boil drinking water, store it in a covered container made of clear plastic or glass. Then let the container stand exposed to sunlight for two days before using the water.
5. Keep your food clean.
Foods that are to be eaten raw should be cleaned well. Other foods should be cooked thoroughly, especially meat and poultry.
It is best to eat food soon after it has been cooked; that way it will not have time to go bad. If you have to keep cooked food for more than five hours, you should either keep it hot or refrigerated. Before eating it, you should thoroughly reheat it.
Raw meat usually contains germs, so you should not allow it to touch food that you have cooked. After preparing raw meat, clean utensils and any kitchen surfaces that it has touched.
Food preparation surfaces should always be kept clean. Food should be covered and kept out of reach of flies, rats, mice, and other animals.
6. Burn or bury household refuse.
Flies, which spread germs, like to breed in food garbage. So household refuse should not be thrown on the ground. Daily, it should be buried, burned, or disposed of in some other way.
By applying these guidelines, you can help protect yourself and your family from diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, worm infections, food poisoning, and many other illnesses.
Source: Facts for Life, jointly published by United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and WHO.