How to Prevent a Bacterial Infection

Four Methods:Using Basic Infection Prevention StrategiesProtecting Yourself from Foodborne BacteriaPreventing Physical Bacterial InfectionsUnderstanding Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections range from mild to severe, and some may even be life-threatening. They can affect your skin, your blood, an organ in your body, or your gastrointestinal tract. The number of people who acquire an antibiotic resistant bacteria grows each year, and the number of deaths from these infections is also growing.[1]Therefore, it is important to learn how to prevent bacterial infections. If you think that you have a bacterial infection, it is important to seek medical attention right away to get treatment. By using some simple strategies and changing a few small habits you can reduce your chances of getting a bacterial infection.

Method 1
Using Basic Infection Prevention Strategies

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    Wash your hands often. Hand washing is a crucial step in preventing the spread of bacterial infections. Make sure to wash your hands after sneezing or coughing and several times throughout the day as well. Other times when you should wash your hands include:[2]
    • Before and after preparing food
    • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
    • Before and after treating a wound on the skin
    • After using the toilet or changing a diaper
    • After touching garbage
    • After touching an animal, feeding and animal, or picking up an animal’s waste
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    Use good technique to wash your hands.[3] Good hand washing technique will help to ensure that you get your hands as clean as possible. Use an antibacterial soap and warm water to wash your hands.
    • Get your hands wet and then lather up your hands with a dollop of soap. Rub them together for at least 20 seconds. Using friction to will help to kill any bacteria on your hands.
    • Make sure that you clean under your nails and between your fingers as well.
    • Then, rinse the soap off of your hands using warm running water and dry your hands well with a clean towel.
    • If you need a timer, you can sing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice and this will take about 20 seconds.
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    Clean high-traffic objects in your home and office. You can reduce the number of bacteria in your environment by keeping certain objects clean. High-traffic objects are those that you and other members of your household handle often, such as your telephone, door knobs, bathroom sinks, and toilet handles. Once per week, use a disinfectant wipe to clean these objects.
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    Steer clear of anyone who seems sick. It is impossible to know when someone just has a common cold or something more serious. Therefore, it is best to avoid getting too close to anyone who seems sick. Avoid touching people who you know have an infection, have a cold or the flu, or who tell you they have a contagious illness.

Method 2
Protecting Yourself from Foodborne Bacteria

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    Learn about harmful intestinal bacteria. There are several bacteria which can grow in the intestinal tract and cause a mild to severe and life-threatening illness. These bacteria include campylobacter, salmonella, shigella, e. Coli, listeria, and botulism. Each causes a unique set of symptoms which your physician can diagnose and treat, but prevention is best.[4]
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    Stay informed about food and water recalls. Sometimes food and water may become contaminated, so it is important to stay informed to avoid ingesting contaminated food or water.
    • Listen to the news in your local area for information if there is contamination found in the local water supply. If your find out that your water supply is contaminated, purchase and drink/cook with bottled water and refrain from showering until the water supply is safe again.
    • Listen to the news for food recalls. Contamination is a common problem, so it is important to stay informed. If you learn that a certain type of food has been recalled, dispose of any of that type of food that is in your home and seek medical attention if you consumed any of it before hearing about the recall.
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    Keep your hands clean when you prepare food. Hand washing is an important step in preventing bacterial infections in and out of the kitchen. You should always wash your hands before and after you handle food. It is especially important to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers, before you start working in the kitchen.[5]
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    Wash and cook your food well. Washing and cooking your food thoroughly can also help to prevent any harmful bacteria from getting into your system. Wash all fruits and vegetables before consuming them and cook animal products well to help kill off any harmful bacteria that might be in the food.
    • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry and eggs.[6]
    • Do not cross contaminate your food by using the same utensils for raw meat or eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables until those utensils have been thoroughly washed. Make sure you also thoroughly clean sinks, cutting boards, counter tops after handling these items, as contaminated surfaces are often to blame for cross-contamination.
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    Watch for botulism. Do not consume anything that has a foul smell or of the can looks bloated. These are signs of botulism, which is an extremely dangerous bacteria. If consumed, botulism may be fatal. Foodborne botulism is associated with home canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn. Follow strict canning procedures when canning your own food at home.[7]
    • Do not give honey to children under the age of 12 months. It can contain a strain of botulism known to cause infant botulism.[8]

Method 3
Preventing Physical Bacterial Infections

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    Take steps to reduce your risk of developing vaginitis. Vaginitis and vulvovaginitis are the medical terms which describe an inflammation of the vagina and/or vulva from bacteria, viruses, or chemical irritants contained in creams, soaps and lotions.[9] Bacterial vaginosis is often the result of normal bacteria in the vagina growing at abnormal rates. There are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing vaginitis.
    • Do not douche. Douching changes the pH of the environment in the vagina and increases the risk of a bacterial infection.
    • Limit yourself to one sexual partner. Those with multiple sexual partners are at a higher risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.
    • Do not smoke. Smoking is associated with increased risk of developing a bacterial infection in the vagina.
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    Protect yourself from pharyngitis. Bacterial infections in the throat are called pharyngitis. This refers to the inflammation and infection of the pharynx, or the back of the throat. There are specific strategies you can take to reduce the potential that you will get a throat infection.[10]
    • Wash your hands after you’ve been in public or have been around anyone who has an upper respiratory condition.
    • Wash your hands after blowing your own nose or caring for a child with a runny nose and/or sore throat.
    • Do not share eating or drinking utensils with children or with an adult who appears to have a throat infection or a sore throat. Keep a sick person’s utensils separate from the rest and wash them thoroughly with hot, soapy water.
    • Wash any toys that a toddler with pharyngitis has been playing with. Use hot soapy water, rinse well, and then dry thoroughly.
    • Dispose of any used tissues right away.
    • Avoid kissing or sharing eating utensils with someone who has the flu, a cold, mononucleosis, or a known bacterial infection.[11]
    • Do not smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.[12]
    • Use a humidifier if the air in your home is dry.[13]
    • Keeping your neck warm with a scarf during colder months can also protect you by keeping a body temperature that is less hospitable to bacterial and viral growth.
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    Reduce your risk of developing pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. This infection is very serious and can cause death. Some groups of people are at higher risk of developing pneumonia and should practice preventative measures carefully.[14] Take extra precautions if you:
    • Smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products
    • Have recently had a respiratory infection such as the flu, a cold, or laryngitis
    • Have a medical condition which impairs your ability to swallow, such as a stroke, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease
    • Suffer from chronic lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis, COPD, or bronchiectasis
    • Have other serious medical conditions such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis, or diabetes
    • Have recently had surgery or a physical trauma
    • Have a weakened immune system from an underlying medical condition or certain medications
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    Do what you can to reduce your chances of developing pneumonia. If you are at risk of developing pneumonia, you should do everything that you can to protect yourself. Preventative measures for pneumonia include:[15]
    • Getting a flu shot every year
    • Getting vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia if you are an at risk adult
    • Discontinuing your use of tobacco products, especially cigarettes
    • Washing your hands after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, caring for others who are sick, or before eating or preparing foods
    • Keeping your hands away from your face and nose.
    • Aspiration pneumonia can occur when food or liquids are swallowed down the wrong pipe. Avoid eating in the prone position, or feeding someone who is not sitting upright.
    • Taking care of your own general health, since pneumonia can follow other respiratory infections
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    Reduce your child’s risk of developing an ear infection. Children are more likely to suffer from internal ear infections, which are painful and can lead to other health problems. You may be able to reduce your child’s chances of getting a middle ear infection by following some simple suggestions.[16]
    • Do not smoke in your home or around children. Ear infections are more common in children who are exposed to secondhand smoke.
    • If possible, breastfeed your children when they are infants. Breast feeding helps develop a stronger immune system, which reduces the risk of ear infections.
    • Never let your baby drink from a bottle while he or she is lying down. Because of the structure of the ears and tube which drains the middle ear, lying down while drinking significantly increases the risk of an ear infection.
    • Reduce your child’s exposure to other children who are sick. Keep your child’s hands clean and washed, as children often enjoy putting their hands in their mouths.
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    Follow good ear hygiene to prevent swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal triggered by water remaining in the outer ear which creates a warm, moist environment for bacterial growth. This is also known as acute external otitis or otitis externa.[17] To reduce your chances of developing swimmer’s ear:
    • Keep your ears dry after swimming and bathing.
    • Dry your outer ear with a soft towel or cloth. Tip your head to one side and then the other to assist water to drain out.
    • Dry the ear canal with a hair dryer on the lowest setting and holding it at least one foot from your head.
    • Do not put foreign objects in the ear such as cotton swabs, paper clips, or hairpins.
    • Put cotton balls in your ears when you apply irritating products such as hair sprays and hair dyes.
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    Protect yourself from bacterial meningitis. Bacterial infections can also affect your brain. Between 2003-2007, there were 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis each year, including 500 deaths.[18] Antibiotic treatments improve survival rates, lowering the risk of dying from meningitis to below 15%, but prevention with vaccination works best.[19] Take the following steps to help reduce your risk of contracting bacterial meningitis:
    • Wash your hands often.
    • Do not share drinks, eating utensils, lip balms, or toothbrushes with anyone.
    • Maintain a good immune system by getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, drinking at least 64 ounces of water each day, getting 30 minutes of exercise each day, taking a multivitamin and eating a well-balanced diet.
    • Consider getting vaccinated against bacterial meningitis. Some forms of bacterial meningitis are preventable with vaccinations. Ask your doctor about getting vaccinated to help protect yourself.
    • Bacterial meningitis can be spread through airborne droplets, so if you know anyone who has bacterial meningitis, it is best to avoid close contact, and to wear a face mask.
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    Learn how to reduce your chances of developing sepsis. Septicemia or sepsis is uncontrolled bacterial infection blood. When bacteria is growing in the blood it can also infect other organ systems in the body, such as the kidneys, pancreas, liver, and spleen.[20]
    • Different types of infections can lead to sepsis, such as those on the skin, lungs, urinary tract, and abdomen, or it can be a primary infection in the blood.
    • Some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, including people who have a weakened immune system, infants and children, elderly people, those with a chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer, liver disease or HIV/AIDS, and people who have suffered from a severe physical trauma or severe burn. Take extra precautions if you are at risk.
    • You can help to prevent sepsis through preventing other primary bacterial infections, helping to boost your immune system, and taking care of any chronic health conditions.

Method 4
Understanding Bacterial Infections

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    Understand that bacteria are resilient. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that can live under extreme conditions. Some bacteria have been found in the hot springs in Yellowstone National park where the water is near boiling temperatures and also deep inside the ice in Antarctica.[21]
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    Learn how bacterial infections spread. Bacteria require certain nutrients to survive and multiply or some may hibernate until the right conditions arrive. Many bacteria cling to sugars and starches that are found in most organic matter, which is why bacteria are often found in food. Bacteria will multiply or make copies of themselves under the right conditions, so it is important to prevent these conditions when you can.[22]
    • Biofilms on surfaces such as toilets or sinks can also support bacterial growth.
    • Keep in mind that not all bacteria is bad for you. Many different types of bacteria live on your skin and in your gastrointestinal tract, and some of these bacteria help your body to function.
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    Know when to call the doctor. Bacterial infections can be dangerous and life threatening. If you have not been able to prevent an infection it is important to know when to call the doctor for medical assistance. Call your doctor if you have:[23]
    • Had a fever over 101 for more than three days
    • Symptoms that do not resolve on their own after a couple of days
    • Pain and discomfort that requires pain medication
    • A cough that either does or does not produce sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) that continues for more than a week
    • A ruptured eardrum with pus drainage
    • A headache and fever and are unable to hold your head up
    • Been vomiting a lot and can’t hold down fluid
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    Seek immediate medical attention in more severe situations. Some situations may require immediate emergency medical care. Have someone take you to an emergency room or call 911. Seek immediate medical attention if you:[24]
    • Experience swelling, redness, fever, and pain
    • Weakness, sensory loss, a stiff neck, fever, nausea or vomiting, tiredness, and disorientation
    • Have seizures
    • Have trouble breathing or feel like you won’t have the strength to continue breathing


  • Bacterial infections can be dangerous. They can happen almost anywhere in or on your body from your brain to your toes.
  • Pay close attention to preventative measures during the fall, winter, and spring months and also if you are at higher risk for acquiring an infection.


  • If you do happen to get a bacterial infection, visit your doctor for an antibiotic that will kill the bacteria that are causing the infection.
  • Get tested and have your partner get tested for STDs before engaging in sexual activities. Use condoms even after you and your partner have been tested for extra protection against disease and pregnancy.
  • Food left out overnight can be contaminated by the next day. Do not eat perishable food that has been stored at room temperature overnight.
  • If you are prescribed an antibiotic, finish the entire course even if you start to feel better. Leaving unfinished medicine can breed resistance, and if your infection recurs, it may be harder to treat with existing medicines.

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Categories: Urinary Health