Massive crowds from around the globe will mingle in London during the Olympics, and that means a world-class array of germs will mix with them. Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert Gregory Poland, M.D., offers several tips for avoiding illness when you are around lots of people, whether at the Olympics, a professional football game, convention, arena concert or other major event.
"The big ones that we're worried about in terms of the Olympics are things that are currently epidemic in certain parts of the world, including the U.S. Those would include pertussis , measles, mumps, rubella, and of course, when you have people coming from the Southern Hemisphere, this is their influenza season," says Dr. Poland, the Mary Lowell Leary Professor of Medicine and director of the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic.
Whenever you're in a venue with hundreds of thousands of people gathering, particularly from all corners of the world, you automatically run increased risk, Dr. Poland says. The people around you may not have the same immunization programs or the same standards of personal cleanliness or food safety, he adds.
Besides illnesses such as pertussis, measles, mumps, colds and flu, other heightened dangers in places with large numbers of people passing through include respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis; vermin such as head lice and bedbugs; food-borne sickness such as E. coli, salmonella, hepatitis A and traveler's diarrhea; and skin conditions including athlete's foot and staph infections.
Dr. Poland offers these tips for sidestepping illness:
*Keep your vaccines up to date: The most important ones include the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella; the seasonal flu shot; and a relatively new vaccine called Tdap, for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis. Vaccination against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is particularly important as epidemics spring up around the United States and the world, Dr. Poland says. England and other parts of Europe have also had measles outbreaks, he says.
*Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, particularly before leaving a restroom, eating or touching your face. Wash your hands for about 20 seconds, roughly as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday." When visiting a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door when leaving, to avoid recontaminating your hands with the plethora of germs on public faucets and door handles.
*Dine carefully: If it's not cooked well, boiled or peeled, forget it. Seek out food that requires little handling when prepared. Make sure food that is supposed to be hot is served hot and food that is supposed to be cold is served cold, and make sure dishes and utensils are clean.
*Wear shower shoes/pool shoes when using the shower or pool in public places.