A number of recent swine flu outbreaks within healthcare premises shows us that, as much as it pains us to admit it, the threat of healthcare acquired infections (HCAIs) is very real.
Such incidents must always serve as a reminder that we can never be too careful in applying basic healthcare hygiene procedures. That is of course not to say that healthcare establishments are being negligible, but something as seemingly minor as a single sneeze can have significant ramifications. Let us not forget that the swine flu pandemic of 2009 killed 142 people in England – it is a deadly serious issue.
As such, any time a viral outbreak happens, we should all re-evaluate how it could have been prevented.
Swine flu is one of several strains of flu which are now considered to be seasonal flu. The official name for swine flu is Influenza A virus H1N1. Fundamentally, it is a strain of the common flu virus many of us will have experienced in the winter months, but it is considerably more difficult to predict any complications that might result. In environments as sensitive as hospitals, where patients are often battling conditions that weaken their immune systems, extra care must be taken.
Predominantly an airborne virus, it is generally spread through coughing and sneezing, but can also be contracted by touching a surface with flu viruses on it and then touching the mouth or nose.
It has been well documented that frequently washing our hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers can contribute towards exceptional standards of hygiene in sensitive environments such as hospital wards. That is why a greater emphasis must be placed on communicating this importance to all hospital staff and visitors.
Healthcare employers should be continuously active in promoting hand hygiene in the medical workplace, and it is not just restricted to hospitals. Clinics, surgeries, rehabilitation centres, and care homes – it is a message that applies across the whole healthcare sector.
In practical terms, hand sanitiser dispensers should be located at all entry points to the buildings, and should be positioned so that they are obvious to all employees and visitors that arrive – thus encouraging their use. Likewise, dispensers should be prominent across the whole facility, such as on the entry to wards and at the point of care (such as in consultancy rooms).
Beyond this, clear advice should be given to employees on a regular basis, constantly reiterating why they must actively clean their hands. Employees should be clear on what they should do should they experience flu like symptoms, and the precautions they should take should they live with somebody who is suffering from influenza – be it their children, family members or housemates.
Regular communication of the issue has a great effect on people. If the importance of hand hygiene is stressed often enough – and the facilities are in place to allow people to take action – then they will naturally be more proactive in frequently cleaning their hands. It will become embedded in their subconscious, and as a result, the risk of patients contracting an illness whilst on-premises will sharply decrease.
Quite simply, hand hygiene is the most important measure to protect vulnerable patients from contracting potentially deadly healthcare acquired infections. It is something we cannot afford to forget. Without being overdramatic, lives are stake – so let’s make hands matter.
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