Winter CF Focus: What You Should Know about Germs

Published on in Just Breathe

Infections commonly passed around during the winter "sick season" can be particularly harmful for people with cystic fibrosis. Find tips to lower your risk of catching and spreading germs.

There are three main ways germs are spread between people:

  1. By contact
  2. In a droplet
  3. Through tiny remains of droplets floating in the air

Most germs are spread through contact with people or objects people have touched.

Germs cause infection

There are three major groups of germs: bacteria, viruses and fungi/mold. Some germs affect people with and without cystic fibrosis (CF) (like the viruses that cause colds and the flu). But when people with CF get a respiratory virus, they may get sicker because of their lung disease.

The altered gene that causes CF leads to an error in how salt moves in and out of the cells in the lungs. This causes thick, sticky mucus to form. Germs stick in the mucus in the body, stay there, and grow well in this mucus in the lungs. White blood cells in the body attack the germs, which can also hurt the lungs. The airways swell because of inflammation and make more mucus. More germs grow and the cycle continues.

This cycle can be slowed with airway clearance techniques (ACT) and mucus thinners that make it easier to get rid of the mucus. Medicines can also help: Antibiotics help by killing the bacteria, and anti-inflammatory medicines help lessen the swelling.

Germs are everywhere

They live in soil, in the air and in humans. They like moist places. Equipment (like nebulizers) that touches mucus or mucus membranes (like the mouth) or isn’t cleaned well can be a great home for germs!

You can fight germs

You can’t avoid germs, but you can lower your risk of catching and spreading them. Here’s how:

  • Clean your hands using soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Keep your vaccines up to date
  • Get a yearly flu shot
  • Use tissues (and throw them away when you’re done!)
  • Stay 6 feet away from people who are sick or have CF
  • Clean and disinfect nebulizers
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils and cups

Wash your hands!

In the video "Just Wash!,” a team from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia sings and dances to encourage kids, parents and Hospital staff to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of infection.

Contributed by: Joan K. Lloyd, RN

Why Choose CHOP for CF Care

The Cystic Fibrosis Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is accredited for care, teaching and research by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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During each visit to the Cystic Fibrosis Center, your child may see a number of multidisciplinary experts. Learn about the care they provide.