Reducing Risks of Short Term Illness

University of Nevada, Reno
Southern Area Cooperative Extension
Seniors CAN

Lesson Plan

Lesson: Reducing Risks of Short-Term Illness

Lesson Number: H-1


The “Reducing Risks of Short-Term Illness” lesson is designed to introduce Learners to information that risks of many potentially dangerous short-term illnesses can be reduced.

Learning Overview: The Learner will participate in a lesson designed to teach him/her techniques for reducing risks of illnesses such as pneumonia, influenza and colds.

Lesson Objectives:

  1. During the lesson, the Learner will be exposed to techniques for reducing the risks of contracting potentially dangerous short-term illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia and colds. These techniques are:
    • Frequent handwashing
    • Immunization
    • Avoiding tobacco smoke
  2. During the lesson, the Learner will engage in group discussion regarding how to reduce risks of short-term illnesses by describing with clarity at least one example from his/her life experience.
  3. During group discussion, either spontaneously or in response to Facilitator request, the Learner will state with clarity that s/he has selected at least one idea presented during the lesson, what that idea is, and that s/he will try this idea during the following week to see if it works for him/her. Alternatively, the Learner will state with clarity that s/he does not want to try out any of the ideas presented, and the reason for the decision.


Set up at previous meeting:

Next week, we will be exploring reducing the risks of contracting short-term but potentially dangerous illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and colds.


Set up immediately prior to this meeting:

Facilitator finds a dim location in which small amounts of Glo-Germ will be visible under an ultraviolet light during the hand washing demonstration and practice. Also, locate a sink with tap water within the facility.



One of the following for each Learner:

* Note: Glo-Germ and ultra-violet lamps may be purchased by contacting:

Glo-Germ Company,
P.O. Box 537,
Moab, Utah 84532

Note: Facilitator should bring lesson plan for this week, last week and next week because information provided at the beginning of each lesson plan is needed for smooth transition between lessons.





National Institute on Aging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes on Health (September 2006). Age Page: Flu-Get the Shot.

National Institute on Aging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes on Health (2000). Age Page: Shots for Safety.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(January 2007). Vaccines-Preventable Adults Diseases. Retrieved February 2007 from (December 2005). Hand Washing: A simple way to prevent infection. Retrieved February 2007 from

Weil, A. (2004). Coming Clean About Germs. Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing Newsletter, December Issue pg.4-5. Body & Soul Omnimedia, Inc: Boston, MA.


Begin Lesson:

Transition from last week

Last week we talked about (name of last week’s unit). Each of us selected one idea to try out. Let’s talk about how those worked (or didn’t work) for us, and also what we learned from last week’s meeting.

Anticipatory Set:

We hear stories about nasty germs and bacteria on all kinds of things we encounter in the world—ATMs, door handles, money. What can we do to minimize the chance of being infected?

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

“The single most important thing we can do to prevent the transmission of infectious organisms is to wash our hands often.”

Share the Objective:

  1. We will be talking about three techniques for reducing the risks of getting short-term, but potentially dangerous, illnesses like influenza, pneumonia and colds. These are:
    1. Handwashing
    2. Immunization
    3. Avoiding tobacco smoke
  2. During this lesson, I will be providing information, but it is also important that we share information and ask questions in group discussion. I would appreciate it if each of you could bring up at least one example from your life experience.
  3. Also during the lesson today, I’m going to ask each of you to select one idea from the lesson to try out on your own over the next week. I’ll pick one, too. Then each of us can share with the group next week how it worked out.

Share the Handout:

This summarizes the main ideas we will be discussing today. [Pass out handout.] Please feel free to take notes and ask questions as they arise.


Before getting into the specific techniques we have selected to discuss during this lesson plan (hand washing, immunization and avoiding tobacco smoke), I want to mention that there are some broader health practices that reduce your susceptibility to infectious diseases. These are proper nutrition, adequate rest and moderate exercise. Nutrition, rest and exercise, like immunizations and avoiding tobacco smoke, can increase the effectiveness of the immune system. These are different than the handwashing method, which is a way of avoiding infectious disease by reducing contact with germs.

I. The Role of Germs

  1. Not all germs are harmful. Many of them live in our bodies noses, mouths, intestines--and some even help us to function better physically.
  2. Some germs that get passed among people live only briefly on our skin and a healthy immune system fights them off. Other germs are more harmful, especially to those who have weakened immune systems. The immune systems of older adults are not as strong as those of other adults. In fact, a person over the age of 65 is two to three times more likely to get pneumonia.
  3. Germs include viruses and bacteria. Influenza (the flu) and the common cold are caused by viruses. There are different types of pneumonia; some are caused by bacteria and others are caused by viruses.
    1. In an older adult, either pneumonia or the flu can be life threatening. In fact, pneumonia and influenza are the fifth leading cause of death among people age 65 and over in the United States. Bacterial pneumonia is a common cause of hospitalization and death among the elderly. When these illnesses do not lead to death, they can still be much more severe in an older person. Treating the flu can be much more difficult in an elderly person. An older adult with the flu is more likely to get pneumonia or other serious infections, and to become dehydrated. Dehydration is also a common cause of hospitalization among the elderly.
    2. Even the common cold is much more dangerous in an older person. An older adult who gets a cold has a greater risk of getting pneumonia or bronchitis. This is due to changes in body organ systems as we age that reduce our capacity to fight off and recover from illnesses.

II. Hand washing techniques

  1. Handwashing works because we pick up and transfer germs by touching things and people with our hands. Some viruses, such as the common cold, can jump from person to person by touch, by air or by contact with a contaminated surface.
  2. When to wash hands
    1. Before starting food preparation.
    2. After touching animals or changing a litter box.
    3. After touching food, especially raw meat and raw poultry.
    4. Before and after meals.
    5. After using bathroom (or changing diapers). The CDC reports that 1 in 4 people do not!
    6. After hands come into contact with any bodily fluid or excretion.
    7. Before and after having sex.
    8. Before putting in contact lenses.
    9. Before treating a wound.
    10. After sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose.
    11. After gardening
    12. After doing any chore that leaves your hands dirty.
  3. How to wash hands
    1. Use soap and warm water. Warm water cuts through grease faster than cold. It also tends to feel more comfortable so that you will keep your hands in the water long enough for you to thoroughly clean your hands.
      • a. The main function of soap is to create a slippery environment for microorganisms, so that they slip off your hands when you rinse.
      • b. Regular soap gives you essentially the same effect as antibacterial soap—the microorganisms are loosened and then washed away. So you don’t really need antibacterial soap.
      • c. Antibacterial soaps can be more expensive, are ineffective on cold-causing viruses and may cause skin irritation. However, any soap can irritate or dry out skin so keep some hand lotion nearby.
      • d. Use of hand lotion after as many handwashing sessions as possible is recommended because chapped or rough skin is difficult to keep free of germs.
    2. Rub soapy hands together at least 20 seconds before rinsing. Your goal is to loosen dirt and germs.
      • a. Try counting out loud: “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi….” or sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice.
    3. Wash backs and palms of hands. Soap and scrub between fingers, around and under fingernails. Take rings off. Nailbrushes are great.
    4. Rinse all of the soap off your hands.
    5. It’s best to dry hands on a paper towel because you can throw it away after you use it.
  4. Other hand cleaning products
    1. Hand sanitizers can be a good choice (kills 99.9% of germs) in between hand washing to reduce germs, especially when a sink and soap are not available. The alcohol does kill bacteria, but doesn’t remove dirt.
    2. Antibacterial wipes are good to use on hands and surfaces to eliminate bacteria. Keep some disposable hand wipes in your purse or car while you’re away from home. They quickly clean your hands when a sink is not available.

III. IMMUNIZATION: The United States Public Health Service “strongly encourages” older adults to be immunized against the flu and pneumonia.

  1. The FLU
    1. People age 50 and over should get a flu shot every year because the flu virus constantly changes. Last year’s shot won’t work for this year.
    2. Each year, the flu vaccine prepared is based on flu strains in circulation at the time as well as flu viruses expected to circulate during the following flu season. It is possible for an unpredicted strain to emerge after the vaccine has been distributed and people, who get the vaccine, may still get the flu. Usually the disease is milder, however, among those who have had the vaccination.
    3. The only people who should not get a flu shot are people who are allergic to eggs. Because flu shots are made in egg products, people with allergies to eggs may have dangerous reactions to flu shots.
    4. For people who are not allergic to eggs, there may be some relatively minor side effects from a flu shot such as a low fever or redness around the site of the injection. There might also be some mild aches and pains. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, recent flu vaccines have not caused serious side effects. And a flu shot itself cannot cause the flu. For most people, the danger of getting the flu, and possibly pneumonia as a result of having the flu, are much greater than side effects of the flu shot. That of course does not apply to people who are allergic to eggs.
    5. If you are allergic to eggs, or for any reason cannot have the flu vaccine, ask your doctor whether an antiviral medicine should be prescribed for you. These medications—called amantadine and rimantadine—can prevent or lessen infection by some flu strains. They can even be taken to reduce symptoms after the early signs of flu are felt.
    6. It is important to get the flu shot each year by mid- November.
    7. Flu shots are very reasonably priced. Also, Medicare Part B pays for flu shots. They are also available through your doctor’s office, health department, and often at local pharmacies or grocery stores during flu season.
    1. As we discussed earlier, some pneumonia is caused by viruses and other pneumonia is caused by bacteria. There is no shot available to prevent viral pneumonia, but there is one that protects against approximately 88% of the bacteria causing bacterial pneumonia. Obviously, it does not guarantee that you will not get pneumonia, but it greatly reduces your risk. And bacterial pneumonia, the one you can get the shot for, is more serious than viral pneumonia.
    2. The United States Public Health Service, the National Coalition for Adult Immunization and the American Lung Association now recommend that all people age 65 and older get the pneumonia shot.
    3. You cannot get pneumonia from getting the pneumonia shot. The shot is not made from the bacteria itself.
    4. You may experience some mild side effects from the pneumonia shot. These can consist of swelling and soreness at the site the shot was given (usually the arm), and they usually don’t last very long. Less than one percent of people receiving the shot have more serious swelling and pain along with some fever and muscle pain.
    5. Most people need the pneumonia shot only once. Some older people may need a booster shot 5-10 years later; this is something you should ask your doctor about.
    6. Medicare Part B pays for the pneumonia shot.
    7. Immunization tips: You can get the flu shot and the pneumonia shot at the same time. It’s a good idea to keep a personal written record of any immunizations you get.

IV. AVOIDING TOBACCO SMOKE. You should be aware of the following:

  1. Active smoking: Smokers have a higher risk than nonsmokers of getting respiratory illness including pneumonia, the flu and colds.
  2. Passive smoking: If you are around others when they smoke breathing in secondhand smoke, you are at higher risk for a number of illnesses. Exposure to secondhand smoke has been shown to increase the risks for respiratory diseases, including bronchitis and pneumonia, in children. Studies on adults’ exposure to secondhand smoke first revealed a link to lung cancer, a fatal disease. Some more recent studies have been performed which suggest adults’ exposure to secondhand smoke may lead to coronary heart disease. Recent studies also suggest that passive smoking may exacerbate asthma in both adults and children and leads to reduced pulmonary (lung) functioning in both adults and children. Although no research was found indicating that passive smoking increases risks of upper respiratory illnesses in adults, research is ongoing, and on the whole, evidence continues to mount that passive smoking is dangerous. Therefore, it’s a good idea to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as much as possible.

Monitoring / Discussion:

Q: Based on what we’ve talked about today, what strategy do you think might be best for each of you in preventing these illnesses?

Modeling and Guided Practice:

Note: Glo-Germ oil-based liquid will stain clothing. Therefore, inform Learners of this fact and have them hold their hands over a sink before the Glo-Germ is applied to their hands. Encourage participants to roll up their sleeves prior to application of the Glo-Germ.

Facilitator asks for 3 volunteers for a “hand washing experiment.” Facilitator squirts Glow-Germ into the hands of each Learner who volunteers, asks them to rub it all over fronts and backs of their hands and between their fingers; asks first volunteer to do the best job he/she can in rubbing soapy hands together for 10 seconds before rinsing. Facilitator asks the other two volunteers then to do the same, except the second volunteer should rub hands for 20 seconds and the third for 30 seconds. Time each of them, letting them know when to “start” and when to “stop.” Compare results under the UV light. Ask each Learner what he or she thinks would be the right amount of time to rub hands together for him or herself to get hands clean.

Independent Practice:

This can be done at any time during the lesson. It seems to work better when it is not done in the rush at the end of a meeting. "I’d like for each of us to select at least one idea, from what we're learning, to try out this week. Let’s choose something easy to experiment with. Next week we can all compare our experiences and see what worked and what didn't."

Closure/ Transition:

Look at next week’s lesson plan for: “Set up at previous meeting.”

It begins: “Next week, we will be exploring . . ..”