Let's start by examining the process or chain of infection.
The Chain of Infection
Both inside and outside of a healthcare setting, there are quite a few pathogens that can cause serious infections and illnesses. Bacteria and viruses propagate themselves by infecting new hosts, creating a “chain of infection.” This chain can be divided up into six links:
- The infectious agent that causes the disease, usually a virus or bacterium;
- Reservoirs in the environment where the pathogen can live, like soil or unsterilized medical equipment;
- Portals of exit through which the infectious agent leaves the reservoir, like coughing or open wounds;
- Means of transmission through which one person can pass the infection to another, like inhalation or direct contact;
- Portals of entry through which the germ enters a new host, like an open wound or the respiratory tract;
- Susceptible hosts. These can be anyone, but some people are more susceptible. Because nurses spend so much time around sick people, they’re at a higher risk of contracting infections than the general public.
At any one of these six points, you can break the chain and take actions that help prevent the spread of disease. As healthcare professionals, nurses play a vital role in disease prevention.
6 Ways to Protect Your Patients
These six actionable steps can help you and your coworkers keep your patients protected from the pathogens that cause infections and diseases.
Wash Your Hands
It’s common sense, but hand washing is incredibly important. It’s estimated that fewer than half of healthcare workers clean their hands as often as they’re expected to.
Direct observation is the gold standard to monitor compliance with optimal hand hygiene practice.
Here’s a recap of all the times during your workday that you should really be washing your hands.
- Before an aseptic procedure. This protects your patient from pathogens you may be unwittingly carrying on your hands.
- After body fluid exposure risk. After oral care, skin lesion care, or exposure to blood, washing your hands removes pathogens and prevents them from spreading into your surrounding environment.
- Before touching a patient. In fact, you really need to wash your hands every time you’re about to touch a patient, gloves notwithstanding. You never know what kind of bacteria you might have picked up, and patients who are already sick can be especially susceptible.
- After touching a patient. After giving a physical examination, helping a patient bathe, or otherwise making contact with them, washing your hands protects both you and the patients you’re going to see later in the day.
- After touching a patient’s surroundings. Even if you’re not making direct physical contact with the patient themselves, furniture and other objects in their immediate environment could also be a haven for germs.
When it comes to hand washing, you really can’t be too safe. Taking that extra 30 to 60 seconds to wash your hands again could keep you from missing work because of the flu — and could also save the life of an immunocompromised patient.
Make sure that any relatives or visitors to the hospital also wash their hands prior to entering the hospital itself and the direct room or bedside of the patient.
Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Correctly.
Gloves and other protective equipment only work if they’re used correctly. Naturally, gloves should be worn if you’re performing a sterile procedure, if you’re at risk of bodily fluid exposure, or if you’re caring for a patient during contact precautions.
Wash your hands both before you put the gloves on, and after you remove them. If your gloves are torn or punctured, remove them and wash your hands immediately. Also, make sure your masks and respirators are fitted correctly.
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Make sure your immunisation is up to date.
Getting a flu shot might seem like overkill–after all, it’s just a flu. But if you’re working in a healthcare setting, the last thing you want to do is spread influenza inadvertently to a patient with a weakened immune system. It’s definitely a good idea to get an annual flu shot.
Follow The Rules Of Isolation.
Pay attention to isolation precautions, and follow the recommended guidelines. Standard isolation precautions should be used for all patients: washing your hands, safe injection techniques, and safe handling of potentially contaminated surfaces and objects. Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette are also important for nurses.
Follow Safe Injection Practices.
One needle. One syringe. One patient. Between 1998 and 2009, there were 51 outbreaks of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in US hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare facilities. This exposed over 75,000 people to these dangerous pathogens, and nearly all of these incidents happened because healthcare workers failed to follow basic injection safety guidelines.
Keep Your Patients’ Rooms And Equipment Clean.
Catheters, open wounds, and surgical sites are a method of entry for potentially dangerous germs. For these patients, a dirty bedrail could turn into a catastrophe. Thorough cleaning is incredibly important. Many common infections that patients acquire in hospitals, like C. differens, are very difficult to kill.
Keeping Yourself and Your Patients Safe
It’s a well-known fact that hospital patients are at risk of picking up secondary infections. MRSA, C. differens, and many other dangerous or deadly pathogens could be lurking almost anywhere. By taking the right precautions, and by following recommended guidelines and procedures very carefully, you and your fellow nurses can help keep your patients safe.
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