Infection prevention is one of the standards of nursing practice. Keeping infections from starting or from being passed along through contact is essential to keeping nurses and patients healthy. International Infection Prevention Week (this year marked on October 15-21) is an annual event to highlight the best practices to prevent infection and to bring awareness to the issue of infection prevention.
Education, says Wilson, is one of the top ways to help stop infection from spreading. “We saw a glimpse of this in the beginning of the pandemic,” says Wilson. There were constant reminders of hand washing, social distancing, and covering your face to prevent the spread of disease. “Those are all things we became very familiar with,” she says.
Hand hygiene continues to be one of the most important actions in infection prevention, says Wilson. For nurses, hand washing is a focused, professional step in patient care. What is important to remember? “Taking the time to observe the five moments of hand hygiene when you are interacting with patients and washing your hands at the right time,” says Wilson. When nurses do this, they model the right behavior for peers, patients, and their families as well.
But putting the best approaches into practice isn’t always perfect. Misinformation can work against infection prevention, even despite the best intentions. For instance, Wilson says there’s no need to reuse personal protective gear or masks when there’s not a shortage. Now, she says, supplies are available, so using new items is the best option. And wearing two masks, like a mask over an N95 that has been fit tested, can actually worsen any infection prevention as the top mask can negatively impact the fit of the N95.
Sometimes Wilson says she sees gloves used as a replacement for hand hygiene which is not effective for infection prevention.
And in a chaotic environment, nurses can forget to wash their hands. Or they might use an alcohol-based hand rub out of eyesight of a patient who then asks the nurse to wash their hands for reassurance. “Be receptive to feedback,” says Wilson. And although there seems to be debate about alcohol-based hand sanitizer versus soap and water for effectiveness, Wilson says they each are excellent–the biggest issue is to just use them. “In a healthcare setting, alcohol-based hand rub is preferable,” she says. “It’s easy to do and effective. When the hands are visibly soiled, use soap and water as the hand rub may not penetrate the heavily soiled areas.”
In addition to hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting areas with proper disinfectants keeps germs from spreading. But, says Wilson, be sure to know what you are using so it is the most effective cleanser and be extra careful to never mix cleaning agents. This is a great safety rule for nurses to pass along to patients, as the fumes created from mixing solutions that contain bleach and ammonia can be deadly.
Vaccines are also a top way to prevent disease and infection for individuals themselves and for the greater public. “They are so highly effective and protect people,” says Wilson.
Infection prevention has some basic actions, but the layers of it are complex and require constant attention. Wilson says she is grateful for all nurses do to help control infection and their persistence through the hardship, staff turnover, and burnout nurses have endured in the past few years. Their work continues to make a difference in infection prevention.
During this year’s International Infection Prevention Week (IIPW), it helps to shed light on how every small effort can make a big difference. During a continuing pandemic and an impending flu season, infection control is critically important to protect patients, healthcare workers, and the community at large.
Nurses’ days are guided by infection control processes and the last year and a half has seen more controls and preventive measure implemented. Not only wearing PPE, but putting it on and removing it correctly are essential to proper infection control.
International Infection Prevention Week began 35 years ago and this year’s theme is “Make Your Intention Infection Prevention.” According to IIPW, the organization intends to highlight the science of infection prevention during this year’s awareness week to help the general community understand how infections happen and how they can be prevented.
As nurses, interactions with patients are excellent times to remind them of infection control practices, and infection control in your workplace is critically important.
Talk with your patients
More people are aware of vaccination, mask wearing, hand washing, keeping a social distance, and other infection prevention measures that have become so common and essential in helping to control COVID-19. Reminding patients how these things are important to future infection prevention is helpful. Bring up antibiotic resistance and explain the caution around taking antibiotics for conditions where they aren’t helpful and can actually contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Remind them to get help
Let patients know they should seek medical care when things just don’t seem right. Former President Bill Clinton’s recent infection landed him in the hospital, and it’s reported that he felt off–just especially extra tired. Patients don’t always realize that something like a urinary tract infection can lead to a much larger and potentially life-threatening infection. Educating them that infection comes in many forms will help them recognize trouble. As a nurse, it’s also a good tips to remember. You’re around so many people and it’s worth being aware of when something seems off.
Spread awareness at work
Healthcare workplaces have seen a surge in infection prevention measures since COVID emerged. Although it might seem like second nature, it is always a good idea to keep infection prevention at the center of workplace issues. Depending on the patient population you work with, infection prevention could also include needle safety for everything from injections to blood draws to IV insertion. Anything involving bodily fluids, wound care for example are also potential infection spreading tasks. Find out how your workplace is focused on keeping workers safe.
There’s more to stopping the spread of germs than simply washing your hands. Although hand washing is extremely important, nurses can also adopt other practices to help stop infections from spreading from person to person (and to avoid becoming a patient themselves). They are also a good resource for patients who can learn good infection control methods and also learn about other prevention methods including vaccinations.
Wash Your Hands
Nurses’ hands require near constant cleaning with soap and water or antibacterial gel. Because nurses touch everything from patients’ bodily fluids to medical devices to food, having clean hands is the top way of keeping infections in check. Nurses know this, but it’s also important for them to share this information with their patients and families. Whether it’s visitors to the nursery or family members who are taking care of wounds or stomach infections at home, this is one activity that cannot be stressed enough.
Protect Clean Surfaces
Everything a nurse touches has the potential to spread germs or infectious illness. Being mindful of the surfaces you touch, whether you are wearing gloves or not, helps you stay healthy and protects your patients.
Staying up-to-date on your own vaccinations helps protect you from preventable diseases and is a key to infection prevention. A flu shot every year, required by some healthcare organizations, is protective as are routine vaccinations to prevent tetanus or pneumonia (if you’re eligible). With the recent explosion of measles cases across the country, you can also help educate your patients on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to keep serious and potentially deadly diseases out of their own homes and communities.
Know Proper Procedures and Protocol
Some nurses are exposed to extremely contagious and dangerous infectious diseases. Outbreaks of Ebola have caused infectious in the healthcare workers helping patients, for example. Knowing your organizations protocol for handling such cases or for handling outbreaks is essential. If you aren’t sure about the current protocol and process, keep asking until you find out or until a protocol is established. Flu outbreaks are common in the wintertime, but in our increasingly global world, outbreaks of other diseases that have primarily been in other countries can easily jump to any area. Nurses have to be ready to handle whatever might evolve.
As a nurse, infection control is a big part of your responsibility to your patients, but it’s also a responsibility to yourself. Remaining as healthy as possible lets you care for and protect your patients.
With International Infection Prevention Week upon us, take the time this week to reassess your own health practices and to share advocacy tips with your patients.
Why is infection control so important in health care settings? Controlling the spread of infection cuts down on unnecessary illness and infection in patients, family members, nurses, and physicians. No one wants to acquire or have to treat an infection that could have been prevented.
According to the National and State Healthcare Associated Infections Progress Report that was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year, there’s good news. Infections are down in many areas, but that doesn’t mean there’s no problem with infection control. Considering the devastating effects one infection can have on a person’s life, eliminating all chances of spreading infection is a top priority for nurses.
Washing your hands so frequently all day long becomes so rote and so routine that it’s easy to remember to do it when you are having a routine day. But a nurse’s day is never routine, so being aware of always washing your hands before touching a patient, equipment, or food is crucial.
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), even protective equipment like gloves and masks won’t stop the spread of germs if they are not handled correctly before and after use and used correctly during wear. Even removing protective equipment needs to be done with care and within guidelines to prevent contamination.
And, of course, nurses need to protect not only their patients but also themselves from infection. The APIC recommends keeping your vaccinations up to date and to review and carefully follow guidelines for handling sharp instruments, needles, and syringes. Being vigilant with these implements can prevent a terrifying, and potentially health threatening, needle stick or laceration.
While every nurse encounters patients who are well versed in infection control, it helps to have open conversations with them to remind them to be vigilant with their own care. Encourage them to make sure hospital staff are following proper procedures. When they are leaving the hospital, emphasize the importance of a clean environment at home while they recover and the importance of insisting that caregivers know and follow guidelines for clean hands and sterile equipment.
In your off-work hours, do your best to get rest, good nutrition, and exercise as all will help boost your immune system and keep you healthy in an environment where lots of germs are present. The APIC also recommends washing your work clothes separate from any other clothes and using hot water and a hot dryer to kill any lingering germs and bacteria.
A few small but consistent habits can help stop spread infection incidents.
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