As you continue to work toward ensuring your family’s health, it’s helpful to be familiar with common germs and the illnesses they can cause. This can help you recognize them … and prevent them whenever possible, too.

The following glossary outlines

  • Type of germ (remember — viruses can’t be treated by antibiotics)
  • At-a-glance summary of the illness and its symptoms
  • How the germ is spread
  • Preventive measures you and your family can take to keep from getting sick

So, read on — and here’s to your family’s continued good health!

Adenovirus
Campylobacter
Clostridium
Coronavirus
Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
Dermatophytes (Ringworm and Tinea)
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Giardia
Hepatitis A, B and C
Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 & 2
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Influenza
Listeria monocytogenes
Mold & Mildew
Noroviruses (Norwalk-like/calcivirus)
Parainfluenza Virus
Pseudomonas
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Rhinovirus
Rotavirus
Salmonella (Enteritidis and Typhimurium)
Shigella
Staphylococcus (Aureus and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus/MRSA)
Streptococcal Disease: Groups A & B
Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium and Multi-drug Resistant)
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE)
Adenovirus
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Adenovirus typically causes respiratory illness, although it can also cause illness like conjunctivitis (eye infection), diarrhea (especially in babies), or rashes. It often causes respiratory illness in children.

  • Symptoms can range from coldlike symptoms to pneumonia, bronchitis, and croup.
  • Those with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to adenovirus.

Spread via: Hand-to-hand contact, touching contaminated surfaces, airborne droplets

Prevention:
You can help prevent the spread of adenovirus through:

  • Frequent and thorough handwashing
  • Covering your cough/sneeze
  • Targeted surface cleaning and disinfection
Campylobacter
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: According to CDC, this foodborne pathogen is the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea illness in the United States, causing one to six million illnesses per year. The illness typically lasts 1 week. Although most patients recover with no treatment necessary, campylobacter illness can be life-threatening to persons with compromised immune systems.

  • Symptoms can include diarrhea (often bloody), cramping, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever.

Spread via :Eating raw or undercooked poultry meat, or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Also found in unpasteurized milk and contaminated water. Infants can contract it through contact with raw poultry packages while riding in shopping carts.

Prevention:

  • Practice safe food-handling practices, including proper handwashing before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t consume unpasteurized milk or untreated water.
  • Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F.
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by cleaning items used for preparation immediately after they touch raw meat, and cleaning/disinfecting and rinsing preparation surfaces and utensils frequently.
Clostridium
Germ Type: Bacteria (spore-forming)
There are three common types of Clostridium bacteria that cause illness.

Clostridium difficile
At-a-glance: This infection is usually treated with antibiotics; it can lead to more serious conditions such as colitis. The elderly, hospitalized patients, and people who have illnesses or conditions requiring prolonged use of antibiotics are at greatest risk of acquiring this disease.

  • Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, abdominal pain/tenderness, and explosive diarrhea.

Spread via: Touching surfaces that have been contaminated by fecal matter.

Prevention:

  • If you have C. difficile, practice proper handwashing after using the restroom and before eating, and thoroughly clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces to avoid spreading it to at-risk patients.
  • Disinfect with a solution made with one part chlorine bleach and 10 parts water.
  • Universal precautions must be practiced in healthcare settings.
Clostridium botulinum
At-a-glance: These bacteria produce a toxin that causes a rare but potentially fatal disease characterized by paralysis. There are three main kinds of botulism: foodborne, wound, and infant.

Caused by: Foodborne botulism is caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin (usually as a result of contaminated home-canned food). Wound botulism is caused by toxin produced from an infected wound, and infant botulism is caused by consuming the spores of the c. botulinum bacteria, which then grow in the intestines and release toxin. The spores may be found in soil and certain foods (such as honey and some corn syrups).

Prevention:

  • Follow strict hygienic procedures to reduce contamination of foods when home-canning; your county extension services and the USDA can provide instructions.
  • Never give honey to a child less than 1 year old.
  • Wound botulism can be prevented by promptly seeking medical care for infected wounds and by not using injectable street drugs.
Clostridium perfringens
At-a-glance: This is the third-most-common cause of foodborne illness.

  • Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and possibly nausea and vomiting, and can be more serious for those in an at-risk group.

Contracted via: Eating undercooked meat and poultry that sat at room temperature.

Prevention:

  • Cook meat and poultry to safe internal temperatures.
  • Refrigerate food within 2 hours.
Coronavirus
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Coronaviruses infect humans and a variety of animals. Most human coronaviruses cause upper respiratory tract infections and cause a significant percentage of colds. Coronavirus infections occur in winter and early spring.
Spread via: Airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Can be inhaled or land on surfaces, where they can be transferred if you touch the surface and touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Prevention:

  • To prevent spread of disease, those with coldlike symptoms should:
    • Cover coughs and sneezes.
    • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
    • Avoid sharing cups and utensils.
    • Avoid kissing.
  • Potentially contaminated surfaces (such as countertops and doorknobs) should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.

Coronavirus Case Study: SARS
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, called “SARS-associated coronavirus” (SARS-CoV). SARS is much more serious then the cold caused by human coronavirus.

  • SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003.
  • In the months after its discovery, the illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North

America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained.
In general, SARS infections begin with a high fever (temperature greater than 100.4° F [>38.0° C]).
Other symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • An overall feeling of discomfort
  • Body aches
  • Sometimes, mild respiratory symptoms at the outset
  • Diarrhea, in about 10 percent to 20 percent of patients

After 2 to 7 days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough. Most patients develop pneumonia.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Congenital cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is the most common congenital (present at birth) infection in the United States. CMV is in the family of viruses that includes herpes simplex and varicella-zoster (chicken pox) viruses.

  • Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life. Most people who are infected with CMV have no signs or symptoms.
  • For those with symptoms, these may include fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen glands. But these symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, so most people are not aware that they are infected with CMV.
  • CMV can cause disease in unborn babies and in people with a weakened immune system. Most babies born with CMV never develop symptoms or disabilities. When babies do have symptoms, some can go away … but others can be permanent.

Spread via: In some cases, CMV is spread via person-to-person contact (such as kissing or through bodily fluids); passed from mother to unborn baby; transferred to a child via breast milk of an infected woman; or blood transfusion/transplant. Children are most likely to have CMV in their urine or saliva.

Prevention:

  • Women who are pregnant (or planning a pregnancy) should practice frequent handwashing and avoid contact with saliva or urine of young children.
  • Babies born with CMV (but without symptoms) should have regular precautionary vision and hearing tests.
Dermatophytes (Ringworm and Tinea)
Germ Type: Fungus
At-a-glance: Dermatophytes cause common skin, hair, and nail infections, including ringworm and tinea. These infections can affect the skin on almost any area of the body, such as the scalp, legs, arms, feet, or groin. Dermatophyte infections typically occur on moist areas or folds of the skin, and can also contaminate items in the environment, such as clothing, towels, and bedding.

  • Symptoms can include itchiness, redness, scaling, or cracking of the skin.
  • A ring with irregular borders and a clear central area can also occur; hair loss can occur with scalp infections.
  • Two common tinea infections are tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) and tinea cruris (jock itch).

It’s possible for a dermatophyte infection to become infected by bacteria. Ringworm is easily spread between children, and is also a common infection for animals such as farm animals, dogs, cats, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

Spread via: Direct contact with an infected person or animal, or indirect contact with a contaminated surface such as a damp towel. Ringworm can be contracted through close contact with domestic animals.

Prevention:

  • Regular handwashing can help prevent the spread of dermatophyte infection.
  • Also avoid sharing hairbrushes, hats, towels, and articles of clothing that may come into contact with infected areas.
  • Pets with signs of skin disease should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
  • Athletes should take extra precautions, including showering after events, regular hot-water laundering of sports equipment, and thorough handwashing.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a foodborne bacterium that can produce a deadly toxin. Most strains of E. coli are found in animal and human intestines; they aid in digestion and create vitamin K. However, there are certain strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, that can cause serious illness — in fact, CDC estimates that there are 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 per year in the United States.

  • Symptoms can include severe abdominal cramps, bloody (or, sometimes nonbloody) diarrhea, and nausea.
  • E. coli O157:H7 can also cause sometimes-fatal kidney damage in young children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems.

Contracted via: Meat, especially undercooked or raw hamburger; uncooked produce; unpasteurized milk or juice; and contaminated water (for example, a swimming pool contaminated by a dirty diaper). Can also be transmitted via person-to-person contact.

Prevention:

  • Wash hands thoroughly after toileting or changing a diaper or being in touch with farm or zoo animals.
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize surfaces and utensils after they have held raw meat.
  • Cook meat to safe internal temperatures (visit www.isitdoneyet.gov for recommendations).
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk, fruit juice, or ciders.
  • Avoid swallowing water in public pools, kiddie pools, or community lakes, ponds, or streams.
Giardia
Germ Type: Parasite
At-a-glance: Giardiasis is caused by Giardia intestinalis, also known as Giardia lamblia or Giardia duodenalis, which is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. It is very contagious, and is a common cause of waterborne disease in the United States and can survive in water for months.

  • Symptoms can include diarrhea, gas, stomach cramps, nausea, and greasy stools that float.
  • Symptoms can lead to dehydration or weight loss.

Although Giardia can infect anyone, young children, especially those in childcare settings, and pregnant women might be more susceptible to dehydration and should drink plenty of fluids while ill. The infection can be treated with prescription medication.

Spread via: Contaminated surfaces (bathroom surfaces, changing tables, diaper pails, or toys); contaminated drinking water or ice (from shallow lakes and streams or poorly maintained wells); swallowing water in swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, or other recreational bodies of water; contaminated raw food; person-to-person contact

Prevention:

  • Practice thorough handwashing after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
  • Do not swim in recreational water while you have diarrhea and for 1 week after it stops, and avoid fecal/rectal contact with an infected person.
  • Do not drink untreated water (or ice made from it).
  • Shower with soap and water before entering a pool or other recreational water, and protect these waters by taking children on frequent potty breaks and changing diapers away from the swimming area.
Hepatitis A, B, and C
Germ Type: Virus
Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are a family of contagious viruses that affect the liver.
Hepatitis A
At-a-glance: “Hep A” does not result in chronic disease. Hepatitis A usually improves without treatment; people with hepatitis A should check with a health professional before taking any medication or dietary supplements, as these can potentially damage the liver. Alcohol should be avoided.

Spread via: Person-to-person contact or through contaminated food or water. In some countries, hepatitis A is spread via contaminated water and food; in the United States, chlorination kills any virus that enters the water supply.

Prevention:

  • Frequent handwashing after using the bathroom and before handling food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A; this is especially important for those infected with the virus (or caring for someone who is).
  • Hepatitis A virus can survive for weeks on surfaces like countertops, bathroom tiles, and plastic toys, so disinfection of the environment is important to help stop the spread of the virus.
  • CDC recommends that all 1-year-old children, certain international travelers, and those in certain at-risk groups receive the hepatitis A vaccine. (Ask your HCP whether you are at risk.)
Hepatitis B
At-a-glance: “Hep B” can cause acute serious illness, and lead to chronic/lifelong infection, scarring (cirrhosis), liver disease, or death.

Spread via: Puncture or mucous-membrane contact with blood or body fluid of an infected person. Hepatitis B can be passed from mother to child during delivery.

Prevention:

  • CDC recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for all infants and others at risk.
  • Avoid contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, or items that could contain them (such as razors, toothbrushes, or syringes).
  • Wash hands any time there is contact with body fluids, to help prevent the spread of this virus. (If contact with suspected blood or body fluid occurs, contact your HCP.)
Hepatitis C
At-a-glance: “Hep C” can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It can cause chronic infection, leading to cirrhosis, liver disease, or death. It often has no symptoms.

Spread via: Contact with blood of an infected person, typically through the sharing of syringes or other injection equipment.

Prevention:

  • The best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis C is to avoid the sharing of syringes. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 & 2
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Herpes simplex viruses include type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-2 infection is more likely to cause genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

  • While HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes, it is more likely to cause infections of the mouth and lips (sometimes referred to as “fever blisters”). Most people contract type 1 infections as a baby/child.
  • Often there are no symptoms with genital herpes; when symptoms do occur, it is typically as one or more blisters in the genital/rectal area.
  • HSV-2 can lead to a potentially fatal infection in a baby.
  • There is no treatment for HSV, although antivirals can help alleviate symptoms and prevent outbreaks.

Spread via: HSV-1 is usually spread through close contact with family members or friends who carry the virus. It can be transmitted by kissing, sharing eating utensils, or by sharing towels. HSV-2 is spread by sexual contact.

Prevention:

  • With HSV-1, avoid kissing or sharing items like cups and lip balm when experiencing tingling, burning, itching, or tenderness.
  • The best prevention for HSV-2 is to avoid sexual contact with an infected person, and always use a latex condom. (The virus can be spread even in the absence of symptoms.)
  • If a pregnant woman is infected with HSV-2, her healthcare professional (HCP) may choose to deliver the baby via Cesarean section to help prevent the spread to the newborn child.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: There are many types of HPV infections. Among children, it’s common for the HPV virus to cause warts. While they can be found anywhere, they are especially common around cuts, scratches, and bitten fingernails.

  • Warts are very contagious.
  • Some warts go away on their own. However, if a wart is bothersome or painful, it can be treated by an HCP.

Spread via: Surface-to-hand contact, such as touching a towel or table that was touched by someone with a wart.

Other types of HPV include low-risk HPV infections that can cause genital warts, or high-risk HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer. For more on genital HPV, visit www.cdc.gov/hpv/WhatIsHPV.html.

Prevention:

  • Handwashing can help prevent the spread of common warts in children. Have your child pay particular attention to cuts and skin irritation when washing.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces frequently.
  • To limit exposure to plantar warts (on the bottom of the feet), encourage your child to wear beach shoes or flip-flops when visiting public pools or showers.
Influenza
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Influenza (“the flu”) is a contagious disease of the respiratory tract. Once infected, a person may be able to spread the virus for 1 day before his/her own symptoms begin, before knowing he/she is sick.

  • Symptoms can include fever (usually high), headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and weakness.
  • A runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and cough are also common, which is why the flu is sometimes confused with the common cold (rhinovirus).
  • Some people — such as the elderly, young children, and those with certain health conditions, including pregnancy — are at high risk for serious flu complications. These complications can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus or ear infections.

Spread via: Droplets released by coughing or sneezing. These can be inhaled, or they can spread by landing on surfaces and being touched by a person who then touches his/her own eyes, nose, or mouth. Influenza virus can live on surfaces for 2 to 8 hours, according to CDC.

Prevention:

  • Protect yourself from getting the flu by getting a flu vaccination every year.
  • Help prevent the spread of flu with these important steps:
    • Practice regular handwashing.
    • Try to avoid others who are sick.
    • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
    • Practice a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition, exercise, and proper rest to help protect yourself from the flu.
    • Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs, faucets, and kitchen appliance handles.
    • If you are sick, stay home and cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent spreading the flu to others.

For more on Flu, see Understanding Flu and Cold.

Listeria monocytogenes
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis, a foodborne illness that can cause serious illness in the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. Unlike most foodborne bacteria, Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures.

  • Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, and loss of balance.
  • Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flulike illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn.
  • Listeriosis in pregnant women or newborn babies may be treated with antibiotics.

Spread via: Consuming refrigerated, ready-to-eat food, including hotdogs and deli meat that are contaminated; and cross-contamination of surfaces, including dishcloths and sponges, through contact with contaminated foods. Pregnant women can unknowingly pass listeriosis to their unborn babies.

Prevention:

  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
  • Keep raw meat separated from vegetables and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook meat to safe internal temperatures.
  • Wash vegetables thoroughly.
  • Clean up spills in the refrigerator immediately, and disinfect regularly.
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk products.
  • Consume ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
  • If you are pregnant or in another at-risk group, do not eat unpasteurized cheese, patés, or smoked seafood; eat hot dogs and deli meat only if reheated until steaming hot.
Mold & Mildew
Germ Type: Fungus
At-a-glance: Molds are microscopic fungi that grow in “colonies”; mildew is often used to describe “mold growth” or mold in its early stages, and consists not only of molds, but bacteria and yeasts also.

  • Many molds are beneficial — such as those used in food production (like aged cheese) or those that are the source of penicillin.
  • However, the mold that can be found in many places throughout your home — from damp bathrooms to food in your refrigerator — can cause a variety of problems.
  • Mold can damage/destroy the surface it is growing on … and it can cause allergies that are often severe.

Spread via: Moist conditions. Some mold on food can produce toxins that cause foodborne illness. Mold reproduces by producing airborne spores that land on other surfaces and grow; mold can begin to grown on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours. Mold is found both indoors and outdoors, and spores can enter your home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold can also be carried in on clothing, shoes, bags, and pets, and it can grow in areas where there has been flooding.

Prevention:

To prevent mold in your home

  • Provide adequate ventilation in bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room.
  • Keep home humidity levels between 40 percent and 60 percent, and fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes right away.
  • Thoroughly clean and dry all wet or damp surfaces (such as walls or floors) within 24 to 48 hours if flooding has occurred.
  • Clean and disinfect bathroom and kitchen surfaces regularly, along with other areas that are typically damp.

To prevent mold on food

  • Clean your refrigerator with hot, soapy water, and disinfect regularly.
  • Keep food covered and refrigerate within 2 hours. In the case of mold on food, discard.

People with mold allergies, lung illness, or a compromised immune system should avoid exposure. See more about mold/mildew in Common Allergens.

Noroviruses (Norwalk-Like/Calcivirus)
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Noroviruses (previously known as “Norwalk-like viruses”) are germs that can affect the stomach and intestines. They cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation that is sometimes called “calcivirus,” “food poisoning,” or ”stomach flu,” even though it is not always foodborne nor is it related to the flu.

  • According to CDC, at least 50 percent of foodborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. It can cause dehydration in at-risk patients.
  • Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and fever.
  • In general, vomiting is more common in adults, and diarrhea is more common in children.

Spread via: Food, contaminated surfaces such as door handles or countertops, and airborne droplets due to vomiting. Common food sources include raw shellfish, prepared salads, baked goods, and contaminated water and ice. People with the infection are also common sources. Norovirus is very contagious and can spread rapidly through group settings like daycares and nursing homes.

Prevention:

Handwashing and surface cleaning/disinfection are critical in preventing the spread of norovirus.

  • Wash hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before eating or preparing food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and avoid raw seafood, especially oysters.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately, and flush any vomit/stool in the toilet.
  • If you are ill with norovirus, do not prepare food until 2 to 3 days after the illness is gone.
Parainfluenza Virus
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) are second to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as a common cause of lower respiratory tract disease in young children.

  • Similar to RSV, HPIVs can cause repeated infections throughout life, usually manifested by an upper respiratory tract illness (e.g., a cold and/or sore throat).
  • HPIVs can also cause serious lower respiratory tract disease with repeat infection (e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis, bronchiolitis), especially among the elderly, and among patients with compromised immune systems.
  • There are four distinct subtypes of parainfluenza virus:
    • HPIV-1 is the leading cause of croup in children, whereas HPIV-2 is less frequently detected.
    • Both HPIV-1 and -2 can cause other upper and lower respiratory tract illnesses.
    • HPIV-3 is more often associated with bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
    • HPIV-4 is infrequently detected, possibly because it is less likely to cause severe disease.

The incubation period for HPIVs is generally from 1 to 7 days.

Spread via: Respiratory secretions through close contact with infected persons or contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Infection can occur when infectious material contacts mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, or nose, and possibly through the inhalation of droplets generated by a sneeze or cough.

Prevention:

  • There is no vaccine for parainfluenza virus.
  • Frequent handwashing and not sharing items such as cups, glasses, and utensils with an infected person should decrease the spread of virus to others.
  • Commonly touched surfaces should be disinfected regularly.
Pseudomonas
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a major cause of infections that are commonly known as “hot-tub rash” (Pseudomonas dermatitis) and “swimmer’s ear” (Otitis externa). It is commonly found in water and soil.

  • Hot-tub rash can affect people of all ages; symptoms include itchy spots that become a red rash, rash in areas that were covered by a swimsuit, and pus-filled blisters around hair follicles. Hot-tub rash usually goes away on its own.
  • Swimmer’s ear is more common in children and young adults. Symptoms include itchiness inside the ear, pain when the ear is tugged, and pus draining from the ear.

Spread via: Contaminated water that comes in contact with skin for a long time (hot-tub rash) or stays in contact with the ear (swimmer’s ear) via swimming pools, hot tubs, fountains, water-play areas, and rivers, lakes, or the ocean.

Prevention:

  • Hot-tub rash
    • Remove your swimsuit and take a shower with soap after getting out of the water.
    • Clean or launder your swimsuit regularly.
  • Swimmer’s ear
    • Dry ears after swimming (a few drops of alcohol-based ear drops can help).
    • Avoid putting foreign objects in the ear.
    • Do not swim in areas that have been closed down due to pollution.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infects the lungs and breathing passages. It’s the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of small airways in the lungs) and pneumonia in children younger than 1 in the United States.

  • Symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, a decrease in appetite, and sometimes wheezing.
  • In very young babies, symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing.

Almost everyone is infected by RSV by the age of 2, but most people don’t develop the disease. Premature babies, children under 2 with a heart or lung illness, and children with a weakened immune system are most at risk for a severe disease; older adults are also at greater risk. Typically, RSV season is November through April.

Spread via: Airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes can be inhaled or land on surfaces, where they can be transferred if you touch the surface and touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Also spread by direct contact with nasal or oral secretions, such as by kissing the face of an infected child.

Prevention:

  • To prevent spread of disease, those with coldlike symptoms should:
    • Cover coughs and sneezes.
    • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
    • Avoid sharing cups and utensils.
    • Avoid kissing.
    • Avoid contact with the children who are in the highest risk group, and wash hands frequently if interacting with them. Ideally, children at high risk should spend less time in daycare or other group settings during RSV season.
  • Potentially contaminated surfaces (such as countertops and doorknobs) should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
  • There is no vaccine for RSV.
Rhinovirus
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: There are over 100 different types of rhinoviruses – the germs that cause the common cold.

  • Symptoms usually include a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing; sometimes, a cold causes mild fever and body aches.

Spread via: Direct contact with someone who has a cold, or touching a surface that was touched by a sick person, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Can also be spread via airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes.

Prevention:

  • Practice frequent and thorough handwashing (use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available).
  • Clean/disinfect frequently touched household surfaces often, especially when someone in the home is ill!
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold.
  • If you have a cold, prevent its spread by washing hands and covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (throw it in the trash when you are done) or your sleeve.

For more on Cold, see Understanding Flu and Cold.

Rotavirus
Germ Type: Virus
At-a-glance: Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among children. Prior the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, rotavirus resulted in an estimated 2.7 million cases and approximately 55,000 hospitalizations of U.S. children each year. Globally, rotavirus is estimated to cause 527,000 deaths in children annually.

  • Symptoms include severe watery diarrhea often followed by vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever.
  • Subsequent dehydration is very common.

Spread via: Touching contaminated hands or a surface or object that has been touched by someone with the virus, then touching your mouth or nose.

Prevention:

  • Practice frequent and thorough handwashing (use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available).
  • Clean/disinfect frequently touched household surfaces often.

There is a vaccine available for rotavirus. CDC urges parents to have their children immunized against rotavirus.

Salmonella (Enteritidis and Typhimurium)
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Salmonella cause the salmonellosis infection. There are 2,000 types of Salmonella bacteria; most live in the intestinal tracks of animals or birds. Salmonella has been a known source of foodborne illness for more than 100 years. Salmonella Enteritidis is commonly known for its ability to infect unhatched eggs (passed on by the mother hen). Salmonella Typhimurium is a virulent strain that is resistant to many antibiotics.

  • Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
  • Although most people recover without treatment, symptoms can be very severe for those in at-risk groups, and can require hospitalization.
    • In these at-risk patients — including elderly, young babies, and those with impaired/suppressed immune systems — the infection can spread to the bloodstream and other parts of the body, and must be treated with antibiotics.

Spread via: Eating raw or undercooked poultry, meat, or eggs; eating contaminated dairy products or produce. Salmonella can also be spread through cross-contamination from hands, utensils, and food preparation surfaces. For example: If raw chicken that is contaminated with Salmonella is prepared on a cutting board, and then the same cutting board is used to cut up vegetables for a salad, the bacteria from the chicken contaminate the salad.

Prevention:

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs to safe internal temperatures, especially when cooking for at-risk people. (Visit www.isitdoneyet.gov for guidelines.)
  • Wash hands and clean and sanitize preparation surfaces and utensils immediately after contact with raw meat, poultry, or eggs.
Shigella
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Shigella are a group of bacteria that cause shigellosis. Because shigellosis can become resistant to antibiotics, these drugs are often used only to treat severe cases.

  • Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody), fever, and stomach cramps.
  • The illness often goes away without requiring treatment, although children under 2 are at risk for high fever and/or seizures. Surprisingly, over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine can make symptoms worse. It is common to be infected and pass along the illness, without experiencing symptoms; shigellosis is very contagious and can infect entire communities or childcare settings. Children ages 2 to 4 are most likely to contract shigellosis.

Spread via: Person-to-person contact and touching of infected surfaces; swallowing water that has become infected.

Prevention:

  • Diligent handwashing with soap and water, especially among children, can help prevent the spread of shigellosis.
  • Food preparation surfaces should be cleaned and routinely disinfected, and an infected person should not prepare food while ill.
  • Hands should be thoroughly washed after using the bathroom and before swimming. If a child is infected, diapers should be disposed of carefully in a closed-lid trash can, and both the child’s and the caregiver’s hands should be washed immediately after changing. Diapering surfaces should be disinfected and rinsed after changing.
Staphylococcus (Aureus and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus/MRSA)
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Staphylococcus can cause diseases familiarly known as “staph infections.” Non-MRSA staph is typically treated with antibiotics such as methicillin. MRSA is a type of staph that is resistant to most antibiotics, including methicillin; it can cause skin infections, as well as other infections like pneumonia. Symptoms of a staph infection include red, swollen bumps or infected areas on the skin that are warm to the touch and contain pus, along with a fever. Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most often among patients in hospitals and healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes and clinics) who have weakened immune systems.
MRSA infections that are contracted by healthy people who have not recently been hospitalized or had a medical procedure are called Community-associated (CA-MRSA). These can be skin infections (such as pus-filled lesions) and, like typical MRSA, can lead to other illnesses like pneumonia.

Spread via: Skin-to-skin contact or touching a surface or personal item that has been touched by an infected person. Often carried on hands of healthcare workers.

Prevention:
Frequent and thorough handwashing is critical in preventing the spread of staph infections, including MRSA. This is especially important in healthcare settings. Surfaces that are touched by an infected person should be cleaned and disinfected.
Streptococcal Disease: Groups A & B
Germ Type: Bacteria
There are three common types of Clostridium bacteria that cause illness.

GAS
At-a-glance: Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria are often found in the throat and on the skin. GAS can cause such illnesses as “strep throat” or impetigo (a skin infection), although, in many cases, people carry the bacteria and have no symptoms. If these bacteria get into other parts of the body — such as muscle, bloodstream,
or lungs — they can cause serious infection. Strep throat is often treated with an antibiotic; a healthcare professional will determine if antibiotics are necessary for a GAS infection.

Spread via: Droplets that become airborne after coughing/sneezing and land on surfaces.

Prevention:
GAS can be prevented through proper handwashing, especially after coughing or sneezing and before eating or preparing food. Someone ill with strep throat should stay home until 24 hours after finishing his/her antibiotics to prevent spreading the infection. All wounds should be kept clean.

Group B Strep
At-a-glance: Group B Streptococcus (group B strep) causes illness in newborn babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and adults with other illnesses, like liver disease or diabetes. It is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborns, including pneumonia or blood or brain infections. Symptoms in an infant can begin within a few hours of birth (“early onset”), or up to several months later (“late onset”). A pregnant woman may have a bladder infection caused by group B strep.

Spread via: Group B strep can be passed by an infected mother to her an infant during delivery.

Prevention:
Most early-onset group B strep in infants can be prevented by giving intravenous antibiotics to the mother during labor. Pregnant women should be screened late in the third trimester to see if they carry group B strep.
Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium and Multi-drug Resistant)
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) can infect the lungs and cause tuberculosis. Symptoms sometimes don’t occur for many months; often, the first symptom is a cough. Other symptoms might include loss of appetite/energy, fever, or night sweats. MTB can spread to other parts of the body, such as the spine, kidney, bladder, or brain, especially in those with a weakened immune system. In children, it can affect the bones. If left untreated, serious conditions may occur. Treatment (medicine) for MTB can last for 6 to 9 months.
Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) can arise when patients do not complete a full course of antibiotics or do not take it according to instructions. In this case, the strain of tuberculosis can become resistant to two or more typical medications, and is classified as MDR-TB. This can lead to a more complicated and lengthy treatment process.

Spread via: An infected person via sneezing, coughing, speaking, or singing. It is not spread through handto-hand or hand-to-surface contact. In some cases, MTB can remain dormant after exposure, if a person’s body is able to fight off the bacteria.

Prevention:
Those who think they may have been exposed to MBT should contact a healthcare professional (HCP) to be diagnosed. This can help prevent the spread of MBT to those who are at high risk of developing active tuberculosis disease.

  • If you are traveling, avoid long-term/close contact with tuberculosis patients in crowded environments such as health clinics.
  • If you have MBT, it is important to prevent MDR-TB by carefully following the medication instructions given to you by your HCP.
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE)
Germ Type: Bacteria
At-a-glance: Enteroccocci are bacteria that are normally present in the human body. They are typically found in the human intestines and in the female genital tract; they can also be found in the environment. If these bacteria spread to other parts of the body, they can lead to more serious illness such as diseases of the urinary tract, bloodstream, or brain. They can also infect open wounds.
Most VRE infections occur in hospitals, infecting patients who are already ill. In some instances, enterococci have become resistant to the drug “vancomycin,” and thus are called “vancomycin-resistant enterococci” (VRE).

Spread via: Most commonly, healthcare workers whose hands have inadvertently become contaminated by bodily fluids of an infected person. The bacteria can also live on medical instruments and hospital surfaces for weeks, allowing indirect contact to spread the illness. Enterococci/VRE is not spread through the air.

Prevention:
Diligent handwashing and surface/medical instrument disinfection in healthcare settings are critical in preventing the spread of enterococci/VRE.