The infection control landscape is difficult to navigate without an understanding of the key terms used by experts in the field. Some of these terms have found their way into every-day language, but often without the technical nuances that can make a big difference in a health care setting. This post begins a series in which we will demystify the terminology of infection control, starting with four "anti" terms.
In our last post we discussed three major innovations that led to the formalization of infection control. Now we'll see what four elements make up a hospital's infection control strategy.
1. Hand hygiene
Remember poor Dr. Semmelweiss? If he lived today, he would be glad to see that hand hygiene finally receives the recognition it deserves. However, it just might push him over the edge to learn that, on average, doctors still only wash their hands 50% of the time between patients. Hand-washing campaigns do much to remind staff, but research shows that efforts must be on-going rather than short-term "events." It is important for patients and visitors to maintain hand hygiene as well, as well as the general public. No special techniques or soaps are required - just regular soap and water for 20 seconds, making sure to clean between fingers. Oh, and drying them properly after you wash is also important: Using paper towels is the best way to remove bacteria (hot-air dryers actually increase bacterial levels by spraying them around the environment.)
We live in an environment teeming with microscopic organisms. They cover not only the surfaces we touch, but also our skin and even our insides. We are not aware of this bioburden most of the time, and even if we do get the flu or if a cut gets infected, we treat it ourselves and move on without a second thought.
Some of us are not so lucky.