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Are you germ free?
Tanya Munshi
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February 06, 2007

Isn't it tempting to grab that pani puri at a roadside stall after shopping or a hard day's work? The readymade fruit plate, too, can be quite tempting for many of us. At such times, there's no scope for washing hands clean before eating. Even if there were, would we care?

Eating out, travelling by public transport and using public toilets are some of the primary reasons for the spread of diseases and germs. While complete safety from germs is not possible at all times, we can ensure we follow certain basic precautionary measures to keep illnesses at bay.

Public toilets

Public toilets are base camps for numerous diseases. "Human excreta, urine and improperly cleaned toilets allow tiny fleas to breed. These sit on a person's body, especially the private parts, and that's how the disease spreads," says Dr Sailesh B Mehta, a Mumbai-based physician.

"Minute droplets from dripping taps in a public toilet, or even urine, scatter and can pass on the germs to the body," he adds.

Preventive measures

~ Carry paper soap strips, a hand sanitiser, a small bottle containing liquid handwash or a pack of cleansing tissues.

~ The best thing to do after you come home is to change your clothes, especially your undergarments, and have a proper wash with soap.

Public transport

While travelling long distance by bus, train or flight, it is not possible at all times to clean oneself in the toilet; as soon as you open a tap or touch a mug, you have already come in contact with germs. But personal cleanliness and hygiene cannot be ignored.

Preventive measures

~ Use tissue rolls, disposable hand towels, paper soap and a hand sanitiser.

~ Wear closed shoes with socks. Wearing open shoes while travelling, especially in trains, will make your feet dirty faster.

~ By wearing closed shoes for a long journey, you won't carry the germs from the toilet to your bunk.

~ After a long distance journey, immediately head for a hot water bath with soap and shampoo. Wash the clothes you were wearing.

Eating out

A roadside pani puri stall sends the most inviting signals to our eyes and our tummies begin to crave that delicious sweet-and-tangy snack. At that moment, we simply head for it, and choose to ignore the flies, surroundings and the cleanliness-and-hygiene factors at the stall.

Preventive measures

~ Avoid food items like bhel, pani puri, etc, from vendors standing near an open drain or a dusty road.

~ The vendor should, overall, look clean, as dirty clothes can be carriers of germs and infections.

~ See where the used plates are being washed.

~ All kinds of food items, such as bhel, samosas, pastries, sweets, etc, should be covered.

~ Ensure whatever food you eat is hot.

~ Avoid salads, coleslaws, cold cuts, etc. You can never be sure of the level of cleanliness of raw veggies and cold cuts.

~ Hot plates are safer in restaurants, as they have been passed through steam, killing the germs on your plate.

Drinking water

"Not all small-time eateries get a license for treated or chlorinated drinking water. So it's best to stick to a bottle of mineral water when eating outside," says Dr Mehta.

On the other hand, adds Arpana Kotian, diet counsellor at Wockhardt Hospital, Bangalore, "Contamination may occur from water, used as an ingredient for washing foods, cooling heated foods and manufacturing ice for preserving foods. Hence, using chlorinated drinking water for this purpose is any day better."

A common cause for jaundice, typhoid or an upset tummy is bad drinking water from a restaurant.

Preventive measures

~ Instead of drinking unsafe water outside, have a cold drink, coconut water or a tetra-packed fruit juice.

~ Avoid ice in your cold drink, because you never know the source of the water that was used to make the ice. Nor do you how the ice has been kept. Have you seen some vendors carrying huge chunks of ice on a wooden cart or on the ground being pulled by a gunny bag? Well, that same ice could have been used to chill your drink.

Swimming pools

In all the fun and frolic in a swimming pool, the basic hygiene gets sidelined. Swimming pools can be a heaven for a host of germs, if the water is not chlorinated, replaced and cleaned regularly. It is imperative that we follow stringent personal hygiene methods to ensure that we don't unnecessarily fall prey to illnesses.

Preventive measures

~ Avoid using contact lenses during and after a swim. The germs from the pool still remain in your eyes and hands, which can cause irritation or redness of the eyes.

~ If you have used the toilet before dipping into the pool, wash yourself and your hands properly, with soap.

~ Before getting into the pool and after getting out, have a shower. Especially after a swim, have a thorough bath with soap, and splash water in your eyes.

~ If your kids are using the pool, ensure they are taken to the bathroom at regular intervals.

~ If you're suffering from any ailment, a skin disease, etc, consult a doctor before swimming. In such cases, your disease may not only get aggravated but you pose the risk of spreading it to others.



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