Avoiding bugs and germs outdoors

Each year a small number of people are affected by infections caught outdoors, which could be avoided by following some simple precautions. Spending time enjoying the outdoors is very important for health and wellbeing. Relaxing and taking exercise in the fresh air is good for your physical and mental health. Not only is it free to do, you can start on your doorstep by visiting local parks and woods.

Wash your hands

A number of germs, such as E.coli O157 and Cryptosporidium, are commonly carried by farm animals. These germs can be present anywhere in the outdoors and may cause illness if swallowed. They’re usually passed from your hands to your mouth, and your hands don’t need to look dirty to carry them. You can pick these germs up through:

  • touching, stroking or petting animals
  • contact with fields, fences, gates and buildings where animals have been kept

This is why it’s really important to wash your hands thoroughly before eating or drinking and after contact with animals or the places where they’re kept.

Pregnant women should avoid contact with animals giving birth and newborn animals as they may carry germs that can be particularly risky in pregnancy.

Hand washing technique

The best way of protecting yourself is by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This should be done before eating, drinking or doing anything else that brings your hands into contact with your mouth, such as smoking.

When out and about, and there’s no running water available, you could use hand wipes. Hand sanitisers can be used if your hands are visibly clean. As wipes and hand sanitisers aren’t 100% effective against all germs, remember to wash your hands with soap and water at the first opportunity.

If you’re planning to eat outdoors, follow Food Standards Scotland’s advice on safe picnics/barbeques.

How to wash your hands properly

Keep those germs at bay my making sure you wash your hands correctly.

Drink clean water

Germs, such as E. coli O157, Cryptosporidium and Leptospira can contaminate lochs, rivers and burns (streams) and can be harmful to people if swallowed. When setting out for the outdoors, make sure that you’ve enough drinking water with you. If this isn’t possible, or if drinking water isn’t available, untreated water can be made safe to drink by boiling or using chemical treatments. Water bottles, cups and flasks should be kept clean and away from dirt.

It’s important to remember that some holiday accommodation in Scotland may not be on a mains water supply. These are also known as private water supplies which if not well managed and maintained can be a risk to health. The owner of the premises can provide you with more information about the quality of the drinking water.

Further information can be found on the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland website.

Be tick aware

Ticks in Scotland can carry the germ that causes Lyme disease.

Ticks are small spider-like creatures that can be found on bushes and undergrowth in Scotland’s countryside, parks and gardens from spring through summer and well into autumn. Most ticks that bite people are unlikely to be carrying the germ that causes Lyme disease, but there’s no way of knowing at the time. So, it’s best to:

  • try to avoid being bitten by ticks
  • remove any ticks that do bite as quickly as possible

Find out more about tick bites and how to treat them

Clean up after yourself

Germs can be brought from the outside into your home on:

  • muddy footwear
  • bikes
  • pushchairs
  • pets

Once inside, these germs can be a risk to your family and your visitors. Simply cleaning dirty items before allowing them in your house reduces this risk. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning up.

Cover your tracks

If you’ve been enjoying the outdoors through walking or camping, it’s important to leave the environment as you found it.

Pet and human waste can carry germs that can threaten the health of Scotland’s animals and the safety of food made from them. So, it’s important to bag and bin any waste whenever possible.

Take responsibility for your actions

By treating the outdoors with respect, we can all enjoy the benefits of being outside whilst minimising our impact on the environment.

Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Last updated:
26 April 2023

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