Infection Control at Home
“One in 25 patients end up with hospital-acquired infections,” the CDC warned us in April, 2014. Infectious diseases can easily spread in medical settings, where many sick people are close to each other and to those who have compromised immune systems. That’s just one reason why home care, if it is carefully managed to control infection, can result in a quicker recovery with fewer complications. At home, the risks are reduced, but you and your caregivers need to continue to follow practices that can prevent the spread of infection.
In-home infection control and prevention practices can reduce the transmission of germs and other infections among family members, professional caregivers and visitors. Children under five, pregnant women and adults over 65 are more at risk. You are also at increased risk of getting an infection if you have recently been discharged from the hospital or you are undergoing medical treatment or taking antibiotics. If a member of the family or a visitor has an infection, they may spread it to a person who is at risk. Preventive practices include hand hygiene, the use of personal protective equipment, home cleaning and disinfection, waste disposal, cough etiquette, and others.
Hand Hygiene can be washing with warm water and plain or anti-bacterial soap (preferably liquid) and drying hands thoroughly with a paper towel. (Remember that the bathroom hand towel can spread germs.) When hands are not visibly soiled, alcohol gel can be used to decontaminate hands. However, gels will not kill some germs, like those that cause diarrhea. Our hands pick up germs from one place and transfer them to another. For example, a toilet is full of germs, but the germs can only move from the bathroom to the kitchen counter or elsewhere on our hands.
Wash hands before and after contact with someone who is ill; immediately after touching blood, body fluids, non-intact skin, mucous membranes, or contaminated items (even when gloves are worn during contact); immediately after removing gloves; when moving from contaminated body sites to clean body sites during client care; after touching medical equipment and other objects in the immediate client-care vicinity, before eating, after using the restroom, and after coughing or sneezing into a tissue.
Personal Protective Equipment includes items such as gloves, gowns, masks, and eyewear used to protect skin, clothing, mucous membranes, and the respiratory tract from infectious agents. The items used depend on the type of interaction a caregiver has with a client and way disease is most likely to be transmitted. Wear gloves when touching blood, body fluids, non-intact skin, mucous membranes, and contaminated items.
If you need to touch wounds or colostomy bags, you should wear disposable gloves. (Gloves are not needed when there is no possible risk of exposure to blood or body fluids or to open sores.) Make sure equipment is clean. Wash your hands, before and after.
Cleaning and Disinfecting the things you touch, like keyboards, phones, remote controls, toys, toilet flushes, light switches, taps and door handles, are the most important. The kitchen and bathroom are high-risk area for spreading infection. Wash your hands before you touch food. Always wash your hands after using the toilet or bathroom. When cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, always clean the dirtiest areas (like the toilet) last. Cleaning must occur before disinfection. Surfaces such as floors and walls do not need to be disinfected unless visibly soiled with blood or body fluids and feces. Clean them routinely with a detergent.
Waste Disposal. You can treat most waste in your home as household waste. You can get rid of almost everything in the same way as you get rid of ordinary trash, as long as you put it in a small plastic bag before you put it in the waste bin. This includes empty colostomy and urine bags, oxygen and nebulizer tubing and masks, and continence control items like pads or diapers. If you need to get rid of needles, you should get a special sharp-objects container from your local health center, which you can give back when it is full. Non-sharp disposable items saturated with blood or body fluids should be discarded into biohazard bags that are puncture resistant, leak proof, and labeled with a biohazard symbol.
Cough Etiquette (Respiratory Hygiene), e.g., measures to avoid the spread of respiratory secretions, should be taken to help prevent respiratory diseases. Elements of respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette include:
- Covering the nose/mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing or using the crook of the elbow to contain respiratory droplets.
- Using tissues to contain respiratory secretions and discarding after use.
- Washing hands immediately after contact with respiratory secretions and contaminated objects/materials.
- Asking clients and visitors or family members with signs and symptoms of respiratory illness to wear a surgical mask while in common areas.
- Providing tissues and no-touch receptacles for used tissue disposal.
Where does an infection come from? People, pets, contaminated food or water.
From what does an infection spread? From all bodily fluids—urine, feces (bowel movements), vomit, pus from wounds, blood; skin scales, saliva.
How does an infection spread? Hands and food touching surfaces, dirty cleaning cloths and other cleaning items, clothes, linen, and airborne bacteria or viruses spread infection to the mouth, nose, eyes, or damaged skin.
Who can get infected? Everyone can get infected, but some people are more at risk than others. Be sure to follow all necessary practices to prevent and control the spread of infection.