Your Healthiest Self

Disease Prevention Toolkit

Taking steps to protect your health is the best way to prevent disease and other conditions. Health screenings, vaccines, and guarding yourself from germs and bugs can help keep you feeling your best. Flip each card below for checklists on how to improve your health in each area. Click on the images to read articles about each topic. You can also print the checklists separately or all together to share with others or as a reminder to yourself.

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6 strategies for preventing disease

Get screened for diseases

Some screenings can reduce your risk of dying from a disease. But sometimes, experts say, a test may cause more harm than good. Before you get a test, talk with your doctor about the possible benefits and harms to help you decide what’s best for your health.

To learn about screening tests, ask your doctor:

  • What’s my chance of dying of the condition if I do or don’t have the screening?
  • What are the harms of the test? How often do they occur?
  • How likely are false positive or false negative results?
  • What are possible harms of the diagnostic tests if I get a positive screening result?
  • What’s the chance of finding a disease that woudn’t have caused a problem?
  • How effective are the treatment options?
  • Am I healthy enough to take the therapy if you discover a disease?
  • What are other ways to decrease my risk of dying of this condition? How effective are they?

Guard against germs

For nearly a century, bacteria-fighting drugs known as antibiotics have helped to control and destroy many of the harmful bacteria that can make us sick. But these drugs don’t work at all against viruses, such as those that cause colds or flu. Learn how to protect yourself against germs in the environment.

To block harmful germs:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet and exercise. This can help prevent illnesses.
  • Get all recommended vaccinations. To learn more, visit the CDC’s Vaccine Schedules.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Throw out used tissues. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home when you’re sick to keep from infecting others.
  • Don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic or take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • Take prescribed antibiotics exactly as instructed. Don’t share them with others or save them for future use. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can create drug-resistant bacteria.

Protect your body’s bacteria

Microscopic creatures—including bacteria, fungi, and viruses—can make you ill. But what you may not realize is that trillions of microbes are living in and on your body right now. Most don’t harm you at all. We tend to focus on destroying bad microbes. But taking care of good ones may be even more important.

To protect good microbes:

  • Eat a diet high in fiber. Fiber is found in plants, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limit foods that can hurt your gut microbes. These include sugar and fatty or highly processed foods.
  • Know when to wash your hands, like when preparing food, before eating, or after handling pets or garbage.
  • Use hand sanitizer when you can’t use soap and water. Be sure it contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid antibacterial soaps and other products. These can harm the protective microbes on your skin.
  • Be wary of “probiotics.” These products can be food or supplements. They may claim to restore a healthy microbe mix, but many have not been properly studied.

Prevent mosquito-borne illnesses

Most mosquito bites are relatively harmless. The itchy bumps often last for just a day or two after a mosquito has punctured your skin. But if the mosquito is carrying certain germs, like viruses or parasites, these pathogens might enter your blood during the bite and make you sick. But you can take simple steps to avoid getting bit by those blood-sucking insects.

To avoid mosquito bites:

  • Cover your skin. When outside, use long sleeves, pants, and socks to help block bites.
  • Use insect repellents when outside. Follow the instructions on the label. Find effective bug repellents from the EPA.
  • Use a fan when sitting outside. Aim the air from a box fan at your legs when eating outside or gardening.
  • Protect your home. Use screens on open doors and windows. Repair screens if they get holes.
  • Remove breeding grounds. Drain puddles around your house where mosquitoes can lay eggs. 
  • Get vaccinated before you travel to areas with mosquito-borne diseases. Learn more at the CDC’s Traveler Health website.

Block tick bites and Lyme disease

When warm weather arrives, you might get the urge to walk barefoot through the grass. But before you stroll through your lawn or head out on a hiking trail, you’ll want to protect yourself and your loved ones from ticks that often lurk in tall grass, thick brush, and wooded areas. Many ticks carry disease, so do what you can to keep ticks from taking a bite out of you.

To prevent tick bites and tick-borne diseases:

When outside:

  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing permethrin.
  • Use insect repellents as directed. Find effective ones from the EPA.
  • Avoid areas where ticks hide, including high grass and leaf litter.

When back indoors:

  • Change your clothes when you come inside. Wash the clothes you used outdoors in hot water.
  • Check your whole body for ticks. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. Remove ticks with tweezers. Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
  • Shower within two hours after coming indoors to wash away ticks before they latch on.

Protect yourself and everyone else from disease

We share more than food and culture within our homes and communities. We can also spread disease. Luckily, we live in a time when vaccines can protect us from many of the most serious illnesses. Staying current on your shots helps you—and your neighbors—avoid getting and spreading disease.

To protect yourself and others from preventable diseases, stay up-to-date on shots for these 16 vaccine-preventable diseases:

  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Chickenpox
  • Diphtheria
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b
  • Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
  • Cervical & other cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Pneumococcal pneumonia
  • Rotavirus diarrhea
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus

Want to learn more?

NIH scientists study ways to best protect your health and well-being and guard you against diseases. Read more resources from the NIH institutes advancing research in these areas.

More resources about disease prevention »

This page last reviewed on May 6, 2024