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October 24, 2006 > Controlling the Spread of Infection How you can help

Controlling the Spread of Infection How you can help

by Washington Hospital

Fall means cooler weather, football and falling leaves. It also means flu season is on the way. This is a good time for everyone to think about how they can help prevent the spread of infection, including the flu virus. International Infection Control Week is designated just for this purpose: to raise public awareness about the critical need to control infection and educate people about how they can help.

“With the approaching influenza season, everyone should be especially mindful about how they can contribute to stemming the spread of infection,” says Dianne Martin, M.D., internal medicine and infectious diseases specialist on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. “This applies to everyday activities, as well as in the hospital, where we make special efforts to avoid infection among our patients.”

Washing your hands and staying at home when you are sick are two of the best ways to fight infection. This is true all year long, as well as during flu season. Washington Hospital encourages all visitors to wash their hands before visiting patients. Special gel for this purpose is available at various points throughout the hospital.

As a general rule, everyone – with special attention to children – should wash their hands properly whenever their hands may have become contaminated and the contamination could be passed along. Some of the more likely ways contamination is transmitted are in food, water and on inanimate objects like door knobs, hand railings and other frequently touched surfaces. Always wash your hands after eating, drinking, smoking or using the toilet and before preparing food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines hand washing as “the vigorous, brief rubbing together of all surfaces of lathered hands, followed by rinsing under a stream of water.”

You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and warm, running water. It’s also important to dry your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Another way infection can be transmitted is from person to person; for example, through coughing and sneezing. Always be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

“If you are ill or have a cold and wish to visit someone at the hospital, it is advisable to stay home and do your visiting by phone,” recommends Dr. Martin.

In fact, staying home whenever you or your child is ill will go a long way toward helping to stem the spread of infection in the workplace, schools and daycare centers.

Another important area of concern related to infection control is the use of antibiotics. Many people expect to take an antibiotic when they have a cold or the flu. However, colds and flu are viral infections that don’t respond to antibiotics. Worse yet, the frequent use of antibiotics can lead to resistance later on, when you might truly need that antibiotic.

“This is a significant problem nationwide, and it is continuing to get worse,” Dr. Martin reports.

If you have a cold or the flu, doctors recommend that you let the virus run its course while getting treatment to alleviate the symptoms, such as sore throat, cough or runny nose.

For more information about infection control, visit

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