Infection Prevention and You
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure, According to Specialists
International Infection Prevention Week, observed October 20-26, is health care's largest annual effort to promote safe, hygienic hospital practices.
This year's theme, "Infection Prevention and You," acknowledges that stopping the spread of infectious diseases requires the participation of not just hospital staff and health care professionals, but also you, the health care consumer.
At Washington Hospital, there is a team of health care professionals dedicated to addressing infection control issues.
"The role of an infectious diseases specialist in a hospital environment is to work closely with the infection control team to provide education and resources to the doctors, nurses, and other patient care professionals who staff the hospital, as well as to the patients and their visitors," according to Dianne Martin, M.D., a local internist and infectious disease specialist who is on the Medical Staff of Washington Hospital.
Dr. Martin works with Sherry Smith, MT (ASCP), MPH, Washington Hospital's infection control coordinator in the Quality Resource Management division and other team members, to evaluate all patients with communicable infections, to investigate infection-related outbreaks, and to institute state-of-the-art practices to prevent the spread of disease throughout the hospital's facilities, including dining areas, food preparation areas and operating rooms.
Infection control also oversees all new construction to ensure that germs from the environment are not introduced into patient care areas. Other infection control activities include evaluating and educating physicians in appropriate antibiotic selection and use and promoting the annual flu vaccine.
Promoting consumer awareness
Started in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan, International Infection Prevention Week calls for all 'federal, state, and local government agencies, health organizations, communications, media, and people' to take part in educational programs and activities relating to infection control, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), which spearheads the effort in the United States.
According to Dr. Martin and Smith, the importance of consumer awareness about infection control practices has become even more pressing.
"Each of us, patients, families, employers and healthcare professionals are important links in both the spread and the prevention of infections in our community," according to Smith. "Individuals can build simple but effective habits, such as hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes, that allows them to positively contribute to their own health, as well as to that of their family, friends and their community.
"As we learn more about infection issues and the simple changes we can make to prevent the spread of disease we become less fearful and more confident in our ability to keep ourselves and our families healthy."
Any effort community members and health care groups can make to prevent the transmission of infections has the potential to reduce patients' hospital stays, as well as costs to patients and families. Infection control initiatives also improve the overall health of the community by providing vital educational resources and encouraging the use of infection control procedures, Dr. Martin and Smith agree.
Hand washing makes the difference
Good examples of infection control measures that consumers can adopt include always covering the mouth when coughing and washing hands regularly and thoroughly. The effectiveness of just these two these actions can't be overstated, according to both infection control professionals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand washing is the single most effective means of preventing disease.
The proper technique is to wash with soap and water for 15 seconds - about the same amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself, twice.
If possible, hand washing is always best, but when used properly in situations when soap and water are unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be very effective.
Other facts and tips from Washington Hospital's professionals include:
- Antibacterial soaps are more expensive and they are no more effective than regular soap.
- To prevent colds and flu: cover your cough or sneeze using the fabric of your sleeve rather than your hand. (Cold and flu viruses last only few minutes on fabric but can live several hours on hard surfaces.)
- To prevent food-borne illnesses: clean your hands and kitchen surfaces often, separate raw from cooked foods, cook to proper temperatures and refrigerate perishable items promptly.
Hot button topics
Some recent "hot" topics in the infection control field that affect consumers include:
- Hepatitis infection, especially for the Tri-City area's immigrant population from Pacific Rim countries
- Sexually transmitted diseases for teens and sexually active adults
- Influenza "flu" infection, which affects kids, parents and grandparents alike
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) and the new vaccine for young girls to prevent the sexually-transmitted virus linked to cervical cancer
- Community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. (It is no longer a solely hospital-acquired infection, but can be spread in the community often infecting athletes, gym members and previously healthy children.)
- Infections spread by improper food handling, including: salmonella with use of raw eggs, campylobacter with poorly cooked poultry, staph food poisoning from poorly refrigerated food and listeria from raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese
To better serve its patient population, Washington Hospital has instituted the "Please Ask" program, which encourages patients and their families to question things they do not understand. All Washington Hospital health care providers are committed to providing respectful and thorough answers to their questions.
"If patients do not see caregivers at the hospital washing their hands, we encourage them to ask the care giver to do so, " Smith says. "Our hospital is proactive in infection prevention, one of the first in the state to invest in a rapid-detection system for MRSA. We take infection prevention very seriously."
The overall message when it comes to infection control, according to Dr. Martin and Smith is: Prevention requires active, informed participation from every member of the community.
"This will make a difference for you, your family and friends," Smith says.
To find more information about infection control issues, visit the CDC's Web site at www.cdc.gov or the APIC's Web site at www.apic.org.
To learn more about community initiatives and programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Our Community" for a list of resources or tune in to the award-winning Comcast Channel 78, InHealth, a Washington Hospital channel.