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Dr. Willie T. Ong, The Philippine STAR
1. Not washing hands after defecating or urinating.
Experts agree that hand washing is the best way to avoid infections. However, based on studies, around 56% of Filipino adults do not wash hands after urinating. And this isn’t about the lack of soap and water. Many times, these are available but the people simply refuse to use it. What about after using the toilet? There are so many disease-causing bacteria in our feces that we should wash our hands thoroughly with soap and water. This is especially true for food handlers. Based on observation, around 40 to 50% of people do not wash hands after defecating. So many diseases can be transmitted to others like hepatitis A, salmonella, typhoid fever, cholera, amebiasis, worms, sore eyes, and various skin infections. Telling people to wash hands while singing “Happy Birthday” may not be enough. It is no wonder that diarrhea is the number 2 cause of sickness in the country with 1,568 cases of diarrhea being reported daily. We need everyone’s help to find the best ways to change public behavior.
Health Advice: Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet. Be careful to wash the area at the back of the hands, between the fingers, under the fingernails and around the thumb. These areas are commonly missed during hand washing. If there’s no water, use 70% rubbing alcohol to wipe your hands.
2. Not covering the mouth when coughing. (This includes the bad habit of spitting in public places.)
A most annoying and potentially dangerous habit is coughing in front of other people’s faces. Such utter disregard for hygiene and the health of others can lead to the quick spread of flu, pneumonia, colds and tuberculosis. Based on studies, children are often at fault in spreading disease because they have not been taught the proper cough etiquette.
Health Advice: Use a tissue or handkerchief when coughing. After coughing into a tissue, throw it away in a waste basket. Do not cough in front of others, especially within a 4 feet distance. If possible, don’t cough into your hands because if you don’t wash your hands, you can easily infect others. When spitting, expectorate phlegm on a bathroom sink and wash away with water. If you’re sick with the flu, stay at home to avoid spreading the virus.
3. Unsafe food handling and preparation.
Because some people do not prepare and store food properly, we have the unfortunate cases of food poisoning, diarrhea and sometimes deaths. Personal hygiene and common sense are important in food preparation. First is the need to wash your hands before handling or eating food. A DOH study shows that only 25% wash their hands before preparing food. Second, separate raw meat from cooked meat. Raw meat may have parasites and bacteria that can be passed on to the cooked food. Wash chopping boards and kitchen utensils before and after using. Third, buy only safe food items. This means buying safe meat (not double dead meat) and safe fish and seafoods (not fish kill or red tide contaminated). Fourth, cook your food thoroughly. Fifth, cover and protect your food from flies, ants and cockroaches. Just a few seconds with a fly and your food might be contaminated already. Sixth, if the food is not eaten within 2 to 3 hours, store these immediately in the refrigerator. And lastly, make sure you label all your ingredients at home. Lack of proper labels has harmed others because the cook had mistakenly placed poison instead of salt.
4. Unsafe sex practices for high risk groups.
The Department of Health is alarmed over the rise in new HIV cases in the country. In 2007, there were only 25 HIV positive cases per month. But in 2012, this figure has increased 10 times with around 250 HIV positive cases per month. In high risk populations, like MSM (men having sex with men) and female sex workers, the use of condoms is only at 30% and 70% respectively. This is way below the target rate of 90% condom use for high risk populations. Just think about it. If an HIV positive person doesn’t use a condom during sex, then this is tantamount to directly harming another person (if the other person gets infected). The HIV virus is passed on to others by blood, childbirth, semen and vaginal fluids.
To prevent the increase in HIV-AIDS, follow the ABCs of prevention. A is for abstinence. B stands for “be faithful to your partner.” Having only one partner decreases the chance of transmitting the disease. C is for proper condom use. There is no debate about the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission during sex. It’s the only way. You have to physically block the semen and vaginal fluid from the infected person. D is for “don’t share needles.” Recently, the use of illegal drugs has caused HIV to spread in this high risk population. Of course, people should be weaned away from drug use. But if this isn’t possible yet, then the use of clean needles can decrease the spread of HIV-AIDS.
5. Unsafe driving habits.
Did you know that road accidents are now the number 4 leading cause of death in the country? Reckless driving, over speeding, tired drivers and drunk driving all contribute to fatal accidents. There are also other factors such as poor road conditions, poor lighting and faulty traffic signals. Often, we see buses racing each other and pedestrians jumping over road islands to cross the highway. To prevent road accidents, the government needs to strictly enforce traffic rules and ensure safer roads, among other measures.
6. Smoking in front of others.
Finally, there is one dangerous habit that has been scientifically proven to harm another person. Around 56% of Filipino men and 12% of our women engage in this habit. Studies show that smoking, on the average, reduces your life expectancy by 6 years. Smoking in front of other people, called passive smoking, also reduces other people’s lifespan by 2 years.
Finally, I would urge our policy makers, the government, media and everyone to focus on these 6 unhealthy habits that can cause harm to others. Let us pass and implement the necessary laws to protect the public’s health.