House Calls runs monthly. Today's column is written by Deanna Russell, ICU supervisor and "Infection Preventionist" at Sutter Coast Hospital.

October is "National Infection Prevention" month and the kickoff for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Flu Vaccination season (October 2013andndash;March 2014).

It is a perfect time to learn techniques to help you stay healthy at home, in a health-care setting, local schools and everywhere.

These healthy prevention tips come from the National Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)

Staying healthy at home

Don't bring infections home to your family. Follow these steps to ensure you create and maintain a healthy and infection-free environment:

andbull; Wash or sanitize your hands after you come home from public places. Wash hands before preparing food, before eating, between handling uncooked fruit and vegetables and raw meats, and after toilet use.

andbull; Use safe-cooking practices. Foodborne illnesses frequently arise from poor food preparation and dining habits.

andbull; Don't share personal items. Toothbrushes, towels, razors, handkerchiefs, and nail clippers can all be sources of infectious agents (think bacteria, viruses, and fungi). Remind children often that while they can share toys, there are some types of items they should not share with others.

andbull; Do not place purses or diaper bags on the kitchen table, on the kitchen counter, or anywhere else food is consumed in your home.

andbull; Keep pet environments clean and remember to prevent pets from drinking out of the toilet. Keep pets vaccinated and bathed, and clean up accidents promptly. Provide clean bedding, water, and food dishes. Protect your pet and your family and keep disease out of your home by preventing fleas, ticks and other pests from getting in.

andbull; Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on a regular basis. Establish a schedule for daily and weekly cleaning and disinfection activities based on the location and level of contamination. Clean more often when there are sick family members in your home.

andbull; Avoid clutter to limit areas where dust and dirt can collect.

andbull; Organize your cleaning supplies in one area so they are easy to find. Remember to keep cleaning agents away from children.

andbull; Make it a family affair. Keeping a home clean should be shared by all members of the family. Assign young kids simple tasks to keep them involved.

Outside the home

Now for staying healthy when you're out and about - in schools, at work and everywhere else:

andbull; At school: Frequent hand washing, proper vaccination, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces are important strategies to keep students and teachers healthy. Make sure every school year is productive and healthy by following some key infection prevention tips.

andbull; On vacation: Don't let infections ruin your vacation! Talk to your doctor about any vaccinations you will need before traveling and be sure to bring a first aid kit and lots of hand sanitizer.

andbull; At work: Many people spend at least 40 hours each week at work. So why not make it a healthy place? By maintaining good personal hygiene practices and ensuring a clean workplace, we can all focus on more important things. Because let's face it - you're too busy to get sick.

andbull; Eating out: When choosing restaurants, look for basic clues as to the cleanliness of the facility and the freshness of the food. Freshly cooked, hot-served foods are safer than foods that have been left unrefrigerated in a kitchen or on a buffet table.

Taking home leftovers? Refrigerate and then eat them within a day or two.

Health-care settings

These include hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, doctors' offices, nursing and hospice care, and other similar settings. Patients in health-care settings are vulnerable to catching infections unrelated totheir care. But the good news is that patients, their families, and other visitorscan take steps to prevent infections.

Here are the top 10 things you can do in the health-care setting:

andbull; Speak up for your care and ask plenty of questions when you go into any healthcare facility. Don't be shy.

andbull; Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.

andbull; Ask questions about the medications that are prescribed to you. Know what they are for, how to take them, and how often you should take them. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take all of them - even if you start to feel better.

andbull; Have questions ready for your doctor.Ask your nurse for a pen and paper to write down questions and concerns you have during your stay.

andbull; Ask to have your room cleaned if it looks dirty.

andbull; Ask about vaccines you need to stay healthy. It is important to get your flu and pneumonia vaccine to keep yourself healthy.

andbull; Know about "infection preventionists." These "germ sleuths" work every day to protect you. They use their detective skills to find the bad germs and keep them from making you sick.

andbull; Become familiar with health-care-associated infections. HAIs are infections that patients can get while receiving treatment for medical or surgical conditions.

andbull; Ask every day if you still need your catheter.

andbull; Ask if you should shower with a germ-killing soap before having surgery.

Our employees at Sutter Coast Hospital take infection prevention seriously to prevent hospital-acquired conditions during your stay. As the "infection preventionist," I know this first-hand.

Did you know that 91 percent of our employees were vaccinated with the flu vaccine last year and our hand hygiene success rates well exceed the national average?

Our ventilator pneumonia rates have remained at zero percent, along with central line and foley cather infections using evidence-based best-practice methods to keep you safe during your stay.

Here's wishing you a safe and healthy cold and flu season!