What are germs?
Germs are microorganisms. This means that they can be seen only through a microscope. They can be found everywhere - in the air, soil, and water. There are also germs on your skin and in your body. Many germs live in and on our bodies without causing harm. Some even help us to stay healthy. But some germs can make you sick. Infectious diseases are diseases that are caused by germs.
How do germs spread?
There are different ways that germs can spread, including:
- Through touching a person who has the germs or making other close contact with them, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing cups or eating utensils
- Through breathing air after a person with the germs coughs or sneezes
- Through touching the feces (poop) of someone who has the germs, such as changing diapers, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- Through touching objects and surfaces that have germs on them, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- From mother to baby during pregnancy and/or childbirth
- From insect or animal bites
- From contaminated food, water, soil, or plants
How can I protect myself and others from germs?
You can help protect yourself and others from germs:
- When you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow
- Wash your hands well and often. You should scrub them for at least 20 seconds. It is important to do this when you are most likely to get and spread germs:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
- If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Stay home if you are sick
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Practice food safety when handling, cooking, and storing food
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
- Germs: Understand and Protect against Bacteria, Viruses, and Infections (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Hygiene Fast Facts: Information on Water-Related Hygiene (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- When and How to Wash Your Hands (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Your Body's Bugs: Nurturing Healthy Microbes (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Eight Ways to Guard Against Germs in Everyday Life (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation) - PDF
- Hand Washing: Do's and Dont's (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Body Hygiene (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- If Soap and Water Are Not Available, Hand Sanitizers May Be a Good Alternative (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Personal Hygiene during an Emergency (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Personal Hygiene: Coughing and Sneezing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Q&A for Consumers: Hand Sanitizers and COVID-19 (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Safely Using Hand Sanitizer (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Staying Safe in the Water: Guard Against Germs While Swimming (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Steps for Healthy Swimming (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Hand hygiene with interventions: an observational study from a tertiary care...
- Article: Improving leadership skills of infection prevention and control teams by psychological...
- Article: A Comparative Evaluation of Three Methods of Disinfection of Gypsum Casts...
- Germs and Hygiene -- see more articles
- Douching (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health)