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It's human nature to seek explanations for the things that happen to us.
So when we get an infection, we want to know where it came from and why
we got it.
It's often impossible to be sure. Infections are caused by
microscopic organisms - bacteria, viruses and fungi - so we can't see
them to track how they spread.
Even if we could, it wouldn't be possible to recognize all the
dangerous ones among the billions of harmless micro-organisms that
Scientific detective work over the years has revealed where certain
harmful microbes lurk and how they're passed on. This helps doctors to
make informed suggestions about how an infection's been picked up, but
it's just guesswork.
Only careful laboratory tests can trace the source of an infection
with any certainty.
Some health care settings, especially hospitals, are more likely to
harbour dangerous micro-organisms. Patients are particularly vulnerable
to infection because their immune systems tend to have been weakened by
Worse still, the organisms that tend to survive in hospitals are
those which have developed resistance to antibiotics.
Health care staff and visitors carry the bacteria around - 30 per
cent of people are carriers of dangerous infectious organisms.
In future, with better scientific understanding and more
sophisticated laboratory tests, we may know the answers to where harmful
infections come from. Until then, it's a case of taking all the
necessary precautions to reduce your risk of infection.
- Wash your hands regularly (this is also vital to reduce the chance
of passing on an infection to others)
- Keep your immune system strong by following a healthy diet, taking
regular exercise and getting plenty of rest
- Store food carefully and cook it properly
- Practice safe sex
- Keep away from identifiable high-risk situations, so avoid friends
with flu and be extra vigilant while in hospitals