What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

By Lana Kacherova, RN, BSN, MPH, CNN, CPHQ

avoid infection - what you can't see can hurt you

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly recommends that patients with kidney disease get a flu shot, since they’re considered a vulnerable population. Besides the flu shot, other immunizations such as hepatitis B and pneumonia are beneficial as well and might be offered by your health care team. In addition to getting immunized, you can greatly decrease your chances of getting sick by learning how diseases are transmitted and incorporating safety steps into your daily routine.

Diseases are caused by either viruses or bacteria. Viruses are very small and invisible to the naked eye. They consist of genetic material (DNA or RNA) wrapped around by a protective coating of protein. They can’t multiply on their own, although they can attach to the cells of a living organism (called a host) and get inside them. Once inside, they take complete control of those cells and start multiplying. Most viruses enter the human body through the mucous membranes—such as the respiratory passages—because they aren’t covered by skin, which is the best line of defense against harmful organisms.Bacteria are one-celled organisms that can divide and multiply by themselves without a host. They’re found everywhere: some of them live inside our bodies and are useful to us (probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract are a good example). Others are harmful and can cause a lot of damage if not treated in a timely manner.

According to microbiology studies conducted in the past 20 years, Earth is home to 320,000 different viruses and 5 million trillion trillion types of bacteria. This is the number 5 followed by 30 zeroes—an impossible number to understand.

Viral and bacterial Infections are spread in similar ways:

  • An infected person (say, someone who has a cold) is close to you and coughs or sneezes.
  • You shake hands with an infected person and touch your face shortly afterward without washing your hands.
  • You touch a contaminated surface such as a door knob in a public place.
  • You touch food with dirty hands.
  • You come into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids (blood, saliva, or semen). Using dirty needles or having unprotected sexual contact can transmit dangerous viral infections such hepatitis or AIDS.

Here are some common ways to avoid infections:

  • Washing your hands is the single best way to avoid getting a cold or the flu. Proper hand washing should last at least 15 seconds (try to sing either Happy Birthday or the ABC song in your mind). Wash your hands often: every time you come home, after you touch a dirty surface or shake hands, and before you eat. Use hand sanitizer as an alternative.
  • People who have kidney disease should receive all recommended immunizations, including a yearly flu shot. Immunization exposes you to a very small amount of a virus or bacteria, and your immune system responds by attacking the infection.
  • If you’re on hemodialysis, wash your vascular access (fistula or graft) before your treatment. If you have a central venous catheter, make sure that at the beginning and end of treatment, both you and your nurse are wearing masks that completely cover your nose and mouth.
  • If someone at home is sick, use separate dishware to keep from spreading the infection to other family members. Use antibacterial wipes to clean kitchen counters, door knobs, or other dirty surfaces, and wash your hands often.
  • Handling food properly is essential: don’t leave unprepared food at room temperature for a long time. Food should be cooked or refrigerated as quickly as possible. Vegetables and meats should be stored separately and prepared on separate cutting boards.

If you do get sick, see your doctor as soon as possible and follow the medication regimen as prescribed. Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics, which kill only the bacteria that cause the disease. Once you start taking an antibiotic, you might feel better in a couple of days, but don’t stop taking the medication until it’s gone. If you stop, the disease could come back with a vengeance because bacteria can not only multiply by themselves, they can also mutate into a more dangerous form if not destroyed completely the first time.

In summary, many infections can be avoided. Being aware of how they spread and following the safety tips I’ve described could help you stay healthy and improve your quality of life.


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Lana Kacherova RN - avoid infectionAbout the Author
Lana Kacherova, RN, BSN, MPH, CNN, CPHQ has been working in the dialysis industry since 1993 in different capacities, taking care of people with kidney disease. She started as a dialysis technician, then became a nurse, later transitioned to clinical coordinator of a hemodialysis unit, quality improvement professional, and case manager. While working full-time, Lana attended California State University Northridge, and received a BS degree in Nursing and Master of Public Health in Health Education. She recently joined Kaiser Permanente of Southern California as a Renal Case Manager.

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