A woman washing her hands with a bar of soap.

5 Precautions to Protect Yourself from Viral Outbreaks

How to Protect Yourself from Viral Outbreaks

It can be easy to panic during a viral outbreak; however, viral outbreaks are a rather common occurrence. Through media hype and the spread of misinformation, it can be a little overwhelming to understand what you should be doing during such an event.

Luckily, knowing how to protect yourself from a viral outbreak can be easier than you think. Taking a few simple steps can help you protect yourself and your family, and remain healthy.

How to Avoid Getting Sick

First things first, you want to limit your chances of catching the virus. While there are times when catching an illness is beyond your control, there are a few steps that can help greatly reduce the chances that you will encounter the virus.

Don’t Share

If you know a person was sick or is showing the early signs of an illness, you should refrain from sharing anything that would result in the exchange of bodily fluids. This means that you should not be sharing cups, mugs, or silverware. Even when the person seems perfectly healthy, they may not be in the clear. A virus can remain undetected for up to two weeks before a person displays any sort of symptoms. Under these circumstances, you are better safe than sorry.

Avoid Crowded Areas

To further reduce the chances of coming into contact with infected individuals, try to limit the amount of time you spend surrounded by groups of people. You never know who has unknowingly come into contact with the virus (or who failed to stay home despite showing symptoms). Places like sports stadiums, museums, malls, movie theaters, day cares, and cruise ships are all places to stay away from.

Since most people will have to enter one of these establishments at one point or another, try to be mindful of surfaces that people tend to come into contact with such as door handles, railings, ATMs, and elevator buttons. Avoid touching your face when coming into contact with these surfaces and make sure to wash your hands after touching them.

Practice Good Hygiene

In general, you should always be washing your hands regularly (not just during a viral outbreak). Washing your hands is a safe and easy way for you to greatly reduce the chances of getting sick. This is especially important when coming into contact with food, using the bathroom, blowing your nose, touching an animal, or interacting with someone who has been sick. Not all hand washing is done equally; consider following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  1. Wet – warm or cold water is fine
  2. Later – make sure to wash the entire surface of your hands
  3. Scrub – for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse – with running water
  5. Dry – completely

If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a last resort. This is not as effective as a method as traditional hand-washing, but it is still better than nothing.

Face Masks

If you are nervous about being out in public, you could use a face mask. This can be a good idea if you have to travel, as they can help reduce the number of pathogens you inhale. Remember, these are not magical devices. While a mask can help with some things while your traveling, it does not provide any guarantee that you will stay healthy.

Since viruses are smaller than your average pathogen, face masks are not typically useful when it comes to stopping viral infections, especially if you are just putting it on to head out to town or the store. Viruses are small enough to through very tiny spaces in your body, and a mask isn’t going to stop them from entering.

Get Vaccinated

While a vaccine is also not a surefire defense, they are much more effective than a face mask. If there is a vaccine for a virus responsible for the latest outbreak, get it. They are a safe and scientifically-backed technique to introduce your body to pieces of the weakened (or dead) virus so that your body can develop the necessary protection in the event that you encounter it later in life.

Some viruses (such as the flu) are rapidly evolving and have multiple strains, meaning you will need to get vaccinated more than once. When enough people get vaccinated, it can help with “herd immunity,” meaning enough people are immune to catching a certain illness so it doesn’t get passed around. This is important as not everyone qualifies to receive vaccinations due to preexisting conditions or age.

Taking these precautions can help keep you a step ahead during a viral outbreak. If you ever have any questions or concerns, talk to a licensed medical care physician for expert advice.