Diseases can be classified as genetic, metabolic, or infectious. Genetic diseases are caused by genetic defects inherited from the parents. Sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are two examples of genetic diseases. Metabolic diseases are those that may develop from the failure of normal bodily functions, but may also be inherited. Diabetes mellitus, for example, is a metabolic disease characterized by high blood sugar level resulting from insufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas. Obesity is a major contributing factor to adult-onset diabetes. Infectious diseases or communicable diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites that use our body as a host for reproduction. Tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS are responsible for approximately half of all deaths caused by infectious diseases worldwide.
Viruses are pieces of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a thin coat of protein that replicate only within the cells of living hosts.
Bacteria are one-cell microorganisms with a simple cellular organization whose nucleus lacks a membrane.
Parasites may be protozoa, yeasts, or multicellular organisms such as fungi or worms that live in or on a host to obtain nourishment without providing any benefit to the host.
Hygiene is the science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health by reducing harmful levels of germs through cleanliness and sterilization. The two most common hygienic practices are: 1) washing hands and food preparation areas with soap, and 2) cooking food and boiling drinking water. Washing with soap removes oils and breaks up dirt particles so they may be washed away, whereas cooking and boiling kill harmful organisms that cannot be removed by washing. You can prevent diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites by keeping a clean environment and by handling food in a sanitary manner. Most intestinal parasites are transmitted by contact with feces from an infected person or pet. These are some of the most important sanitation practices to help you maintain your health:
Wash your hands before cooking or eating.
Wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a child’s diapers, shaking hands, handling money, touching door handles, elevator buttons, light switches, handrails in public places, and handling pets.
Do not touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or any food after touching any contaminated surfaces until after you have washed your hands. Wear gloves to prevent contamination.
Keep cutting boards and food preparation areas clean by washing them with soap and water and allowing them to dry thoroughly.
Cook meats and seafood. Cooking to a temperature of 180°F (82°C) will kill disease-causing organisms. Use a meat thermometer when cooking roasts or whole turkeys to be sure food is cooked to a safe temperature.
Keep raw food away from cooked food. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate plates for the cooked and the raw food.
Drink purified water and use purified water for washing hands and cleaning food preparation areas. Water can be purified by boiling for a few minutes or by chemical treatments such as chlorination.
Keep food refrigerated to delay spoilage. Low temperatures slow down reproduction of bacteria.
Don’t let cooked food sit at room temperature too long. Food should be promptly packed in shallow containers so it can chill quickly, and put in the refrigerator. Keeping food refrigerated at or below 4°C/40°F slows down bacterial growth.
Vegetables that are eaten raw, such as carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, etc., should be washed thoroughly. The vinegar in some salad dressings will also kill many types of bacteria.
Wash fruits that are cut, such as melons, to avoid transferring any dirt or contamination from the outside of the fruit to the inside during cutting.
Do not eat spoiled food, or any food that has an unpleasant smell or taste. You cannot always see, smell or taste harmful organisms. When in doubt, throw out old food rather than risk getting sick.
Breathe clean air. Avoid smoky, dusty, musty environments, or confined places where people are coughing or sneezing. Wearing a surgical face mask can reduce the chances of contracting or spreading diseases caused by infectious organisms carried in the droplets from coughing or sneezing.
Avoid insect bites by using window screens, mosquito netting, insect repellents, and by being indoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Many viral, bacterial, and protozoan diseases are transmitted by insect bites from mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and ticks. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include Dengue Fever, Malaria, Rift Valley Fever, Yellow Fever, and various types of viral encephalitis such as West Nile virus.
Avoid walking barefoot on soil or swimming in water contaminated by feces. Hookworm and schistosomiasis infections start when the larvae penetrate the skin. It is possible to get parasites from cats and dogs. Test your pets for parasites regularly and dispose of their feces in a sanitary manner.
To prevent wart infections and athlete’s foot, avoid walking barefoot in public areas such as showers or communal changing rooms. Avoid sharing shoes and socks.
Brush and floss your teeth every day before going to bed to prevent gum diseases and dental decay.
Many diseases are transferred by close contact with an infected individual. Be very selective in your intimate personal relationships, and avoid touching any sores, feces, or body fluids from a sick person.
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