Ahh…choo! When you hear the tell-tale sound of a loud sneeze from your friend's direction, what goes through your mind? After saying, "Bless you," we hope you're thinking of where the nearest sink is to wash your hands!

When colder weather approaches and cold and flu germs begin to attack, you have to get serious about defending yourself from these nasty bugs. You've probably noticed that, as soon as one friend in your class comes down with a cold or the flu, it's often not long before several other students follow suit.

Why is that? The common cold and the flu are both infectious diseases. That means they're caused by microscopic germs, such as bacteria and viruses, which invade the body and cause sickness.

Unfortunately, the common cold and the flu are also both contagious diseases. That means they can be spread directly from one person to another.

When your friend sneezes and wipes his nose, some of the bad germs get onto his hands. If he doesn't wash his hands before touching the doorknob, those germs can be passed to you the next time you open the door. Before you know it, you're sick, too!

Of course, there are many ways to pass germs from one person to another. When someone sneezes, germs can be spread all over the room through the air. You can also pass germs directly to another person by touching them, such as when you shake hands or even play tag on the playground.

In addition to the common cold and the flu, there are many other diseases that are contagious. Some examples include strep throat, pinkeye, and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Not all infectious diseases are contagious, however. Instead of being spread from one person to another, some infections can only be spread directly from an animal or an insect. For example, Lyme disease can result from the bite of an infected tick, but it can't be passed from one person to another.

Other examples of non-contagious illnesses include eczema and ear infections. Likewise, many diseases that have genetic origins are also not contagious, including diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy, high blood pressure, asthma, and cancer.

Sometimes, the chances of developing non-contagious diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can be lessened by regularly exercising and eating a healthy diet.

But how do you protect yourself from those illnesses that are contagious? Wash your hands! Washing your hands often will help to keep harmful germs at bay. You should also stay away from sick people as much as possible. Finally, make sure all your vaccinations are up to date!

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