Since its inception IIPW has spread around the globe and now is an annual event in such diverse places as Australia, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
Each year IIPW has a theme. Recent themes include Vaccines are Everybody’s Business in 2019, Protecting Patients Everywhere in 2018, Antibiotic Resistance in 2017 and Break the Chain of Infection in 2016.
This year’s theme is “Make Your Intention Infection Prevention” …catchy huh? Our Infection Control Team has been running around the hospital sporting fancy T-shirts looking like “professional footballers”!
They told me that the idea behind this year’s theme is to encourage everyone, the general population as well as healthcare workers, to put infection control practices at the heart of what they do; make them an instinctive and everyday part of how we go about our lives.
Now this may seem obvious, surely everyone does this already …but do they? How many people wash their hands regularly? How many people self-isolate when they are unwell? How many people carry tissues around in case they sneeze? My suspicion is …not many!
Let’s look at the elephant in the room …Covid-19 (clearly my favourite topic!).
Below is a graph from the Department of Health (UK) website showing the cumulative number of cases of Covid-19 in the UK since the pandemic began.
The World has known about Covid-19 since March 2020. We have been continually bombarded with numbers of infections, deaths and vaccinations. We have been locked down (twice!), told to self-isolate, wear masks, wash our hands, get double or triple vaccinated blah, blah, blah…. And yet since July this year the graph showing cumulative numbers of Covid-19 cases in the UK is upwardly linear! The increase in cases per day is almost constant; it just goes up and up. Are our infection control measures failing, is the virus “beating” our measures or are we just not following them? I believe it is because we are no longer following basic infection control measures; we have become complacent. We need to start doing the basics properly again!
So, what is infection control, and what basic precautions can we take in hospital and outside hospital to implement good infection control?
What is Infection Control?
Infection control is implemented to prevent the spread of infections within hospitals and other healthcare settings. Infection control policies centre on preventing transfer of infections from patient-to-patient, patients-to-staff and staff-to-patients. The infection control toolkit includes hand hygiene, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), isolation of patients, environmental cleaning and decontamination, staff vaccination, antimicrobial stewardship, surveillance and Root Cause Analysis (RCA).
I think the simplest of these infection control measures, which can easily be done outside as well as inside the hospital, are isolation and hand hygiene.
There are 2 main types of patient isolation:
Source isolation protects staff and other patients from acquiring infections – this is what has become known as self-isolation, social distancing and physical distancing during the pandemic
Protective isolation prevents vulnerable patients from catching infections – this is what has been known as shielding during the pandemic
Where possible patients with transmissible infectious diseases should be nursed in single occupancy rooms (side rooms) with en-suite toilet and separate hand hygiene facilities. The door should remain closed at all times. Some patients need to be nursed in negative pressured rooms, which draw air into the room thereby preventing airborne microorganisms exiting to other clinical areas.
If you are sick but well enough to be at home, then stay at home. Don’t go to the shops, don’t pop out to see your mates, don’t visit your elderly or vulnerable relatives; self-isolate.
Patients who are immunodeficient should be nursed in single occupancy rooms (side rooms) with en-suite toilet and separate hand hygiene facilities. The door should remain closed at all times. Some patients will need to be nursed in positive pressured rooms, which push air out of the room thereby preventing airborne microorganisms entering the room and exposing the patient.
If you know you’re vulnerable to infection, then try to make sure that those who you might come into contact with aren’t unwell. This is tricky but do the best you can; when combined with source isolation it will help you a lot.
Hands are the most common source of contamination leading to patient-to-patient transmission of infectious microorganisms. Effective hand hygiene is therefore the single most important step healthcare staff can take in order to prevent transmission of infections between patients. Even “respiratory” viruses like SARS CoV2 are usually transmitted on hands that have touched contaminated patients or surfaces!
The World Health Organisation’s 5 Key Moments of Hand Hygiene:
- Before patient contact
- Before an aseptic task
- After body fluid exposure risk
- After patient contact
- After contact with the patient’s surroundings
I think if we were just able to make these simple measures of isolation and hand hygiene an everyday instinctive part of our lives, then we could have a massive impact on the burden of infections within the population, not just Covid-19. But it’s difficult; people seem to be incredibly resistant to following infection control guidance, even small children seem to “instinctively” hate washing their hands… and I have absolutely no idea why…. Does anyone know why??!
So, there you have it, it’s International Infection Prevention Week, and the theme is Make Your Intention Infection Prevention. So how are you going to do this? What commitments are you going to make to infection control? How about a T-shirt to gently remind you…?
But it got me thinking, what are the top 3 traits that make a good infection control practitioner, and here is my list …do you agree?
The top three requirements for being a good infection control practitioner:
- Patience (or is that persistence?)
- Sense of humour
- Common sense