Microscopic life plays big role in staying healthy

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Germs: They're everywhere.

From the common cold to Ebola, we're pretty much at the mercy of our microscopic companions.

The flu virus is especially devious -- because of haphazard replication of its DNA, new strains are appearing all the time.

Flu vaccines that have to be prepared months in advance are sometimes effective against the strains that actually appear, and sometimes not.

This year, unfortunately, is one of the latter.

On a good year, flu vaccines are about 70 percent effective; last year, because of the unpredictable nature of the flu virus, it was about 50 percent, and this year shows signs of being no better.

Still, getting flu shot is the best plan, especially if you're in the young, elderly or medically fragile groups that most benefit.

Besides the flu shot, there's one more thing you can do to increase your chances of staying healthy -- washing your hands.

Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department is celebrating National Handwashing Awareness Week this week by conducting demonstrations and promoting proper handwashing. Check out Wednesday's Health page for photos and more information.

In brief, here's what to do:

1.WASH your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating.

2.DO NOT cough into your hands.

3.DO NOT sneeze into your hands.

4.Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose, or mouth. (T-ZONE)

Here's how to do it:

1.Wet hands with warm water and use soap.

2.Rub your hands together, making sure to scrub all areas.

3.Rub for a minimum of 20 seconds or sing "Happy Birthday" two times.

4.Rinse thoroughly, then dry hands on a clean towel.

5.Turn faucet off with a clean towel, not hands, to prevent recontamination.

So let's do everything we can to get rid of microorganisms, right?

Well, not exactly.

It turns out the good kind of "bugs" can help us fight off the bad and keep us healthy.

Fermented foods -- with live and active cultures -- can help keep our gastrointestinal tract in good shape.

One of the most common is yogurt with live and active cultures, which is relatively easy to find.

Other sources are fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles, as long as they are refrigerated and have not been pasteurized.

If you're more adventuresome, try Kombucha, a fermented tea you can brew at home.

Wine and beer are a whole 'nother type of fermented product with issues and possible benefits of their own.

When it comes to staying healthy, however, we need to keep our microscopic companions in mind.

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