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Fighting Germs

Hand washing.

It may sound kind of disgusting, but germs are everywhere. These germs are so small that they can hurt your body without you even knowing. There are four different types of germs: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. These organisms can cause infections such as a cold. They can also cause infections that can put your life in danger, such as HIV. The good news is that you can take steps to help protect yourself.

What can I do to protect myself from germs?

  • Wash your hands. Wash after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose or coughing, after touching animals, after gardening, before and after spending time with someone who is sick, and before and after preparing foods. And remember, that’s using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds!
  • Check that you’ve gotten the vaccinations you need. Talk with your parents/guardian or doctor about making sure you have the vaccines you need to protect you from diseases that are easily spread, such as the measles. You can take a quick quiz to see which vaccines are right for you. Want to learn more? Visit for lots of information, including what to expect when you get a shot.
  • If you are sexually active, use latex condoms. Latex condoms can help protect you from getting some diseases that are spread by sexual contact. Latex condoms don't work for all infections and only lower your chances of getting others, though. Abstinence is the best way to protect your health.
  • Do not share needles or other items used for drugs, tattoos, or piercings. Things like dirty needles and drug equipment may let germs into your body that can cause infections like HIV or hepatitis. (You can’t tell if these things are dirty just by looking at them.) Learn more about tattoos and piercings. Learn more about the connection between drugs and HIV.

A girl chopping vegetables for a meal.Staying safe around food

Follow these safety tips to protect yourself from food that has gone bad because of germs:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after you touch food.
  • Wash everything — cutting boards, the counter, and other utensils — before and after it touches food.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
  • Keep juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods. Clean the kitchen counter after any of these foods has been sitting on it.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables under warm running water to wash dirt away. Use a produce brush if needed.
  • Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can make you sick if not fully cooked. How do you know if they are cooked? Do not eat hamburger if the meat is still pink; your fish should flake when you dig a fork into it; and cooked egg whites and yolks should be firm.
  • For more food safety information, call 1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366). You can also find more food safety information online.
  • Share these food safety tips with your family.


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Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.