Hesperian Health Guides

Preventing the Spread of Germs and Worms

In this chapter:

While germs and worms are found everywhere, there are simple steps that every person can take to help prevent illness. To stop the spread of germs and worms:

  • Protect water sources and use clean water for drinking and washing. Unless you know water is safe, it is best to treat it.

illustration of the below: hands under a tap.

  • Always wash hands after using the toilet, and before handling food. Use clean water and soap if available. If not, use clean sand or ash. Cut fingernails short. This will also help keep hands clean.illustration of the below: pit toilet with shelter.
  • Use a toilet. This puts germs and worms out of contact with people. If there is no toilet it is best to defecate far from water sources, in a place where feces will not be touched by people or animals. Cover feces with dirt to keep flies away.
    illustration of the below: cooking pot boiling.
  • Use clean and safe methods of preparing and storing food. Wash fruits and vegetables, or cook them well before eating them. Feed left-over food scraps to animals, or put them in a compost pile or toilet. Get rid of spoiled food, keep meat and seafood separate from other foods, and make sure meat, eggs, and fish are cooked well before eating. Wash dishes, cutting surfaces, and utensils with hot water and soap after using them, and allow them to dry well in the sun if possible.illustration of the below: pig by a fence.
  • Keep animals away from household food and community water sources.
  • Wear shoes to prevent worms from entering through the feet.
    illustration of the below: fish on a plate under a net dome.
  • Make fly traps and cover food to prevent flies from spreading germs. Toilets that control flies or stop them from breeding can also help.

How to make a fly trap from a jar or bottle

fly trap on the ground.
  1. Tape or glue paper to make an open cone, then fit the cone inside a plastic or glass jar or bottle.
  2. Seal around the opening of the bottle so there is no space between the cone and the bottle.
  3. Hang the bottle from string or wire, or attach it to a stick in the ground.
  4. Put some sweet bait, like fruit or fish, just under the trap. Flies will land on the food and then fly through the cone and into the bottle.
  5. To empty the trap, turn it mouth up, remove the cone, fill with water to make sure the flies are dead, and then empty it into a toilet or compost pile.

To reduce flies, hang traps near toilets and places where food is prepared.

Washing hands

A man washes his hands under a tap.

One of the best ways to prevent health problems from germs and worms is to wash hands with soap and water after defecating or cleaning a baby's bottom, and before preparing food, feeding children, or eating.

Keep a source of clean water near your home to make hand washing easier. But washing with water alone is not effective enough. Use soap to remove dirt and germs. If no soap is available, use sand, soil, or ashes.

Rub hands together with soap and flowing water from a pump, tap (faucet), or tippy tap. If there is no flowing water, use a washbasin or bowl.

A woman shakes water from her hands.

Lather soap (or rub sand or ashes) all over your hands and count to 30 as you rub them. Then rub your hands together under the water to rinse off. Dry with a clean cloth or let your hands dry in the air.

The tippy tap: A simple hand-washing device

The tippy tap allows you to wash your hands using very little water. It also allows the user to rub both hands together while water runs over them. The tippy tap is made of materials that are freely available and can be put wherever people need to wash their hands, for example, near the cooking stove, at the toilet, or in a market.

How to make a plastic tippy tap

To make this tippy tap you need 1) a plastic bottle with a screw-on cap (the sort soda drinks come in), and 2) a drinking straw, or the tube from a ballpoint pen, or some other small, stiff, hollow tube. The bigger the bottle, the better, because it does not need to be filled as often.

soda bottle.
  1. Clean the bottle.
  2. Using a heated piece of wire, make a small hole in the lower part of the bottle.
  3. If you do not have a drinking straw, clean the inside tube from a ballpoint pen. Cut it off at an angle, and push it through the hole in the bottle.
    The tube should fit tightly.

hanging water filled bottle pierced by straw. 4. Fill the bottle with water and replace the cap. When the cap is tight, no water should flow through the tube. When the cap is loose, water should flow out in a steady stream. When you are sure that it works, hang it or place it on a shelf where people can use it for hand washing. Keep soap nearby, or thread a bar of soap with string and tie it to the bottle.

hands rubbing under water flowing from hanging bottle. 5. To use the tippy tap: Loosen the cap just enough to let water flow. Wet your hands, add soap, and rub your hands together under the water until they are clean.

This page was updated:05 Jan 2024