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October 22, 2010 > Infection Control Week: Give Healing a Hand!

Infection Control Week: Give Healing a Hand!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately two million patients acquire infections in a healthcare setting every year. To promote greater awareness about the role each of us plays in controlling the spread of infectious diseases, the third week of October has been designated since 1986 as National Infection Control Week.

The theme of this year's observance, from October 17 to 23, is "Infection Prevention: Give Healing a Hand," stressing the importance of hand hygiene in preventing illness at home, school and work - as well as in healthcare facilities and other public settings.

"At Washington Hospital, we have a very aggressive campaign to promote frequent hand washing among all the staff," says Dr. Dianne Martin, an infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at the hospital. "We also encourage patients to be proactive in infection prevention with our 'Please Ask' campaign that reminds patients to ask anyone who is treating them whether or not they have washed their hands. In addition, we have foam-based alcohol hand cleanser dispensers located throughout the hospital."

Dr. Martin notes that Washington Hospital also has staff members wear protective gowns, masks and gloves when treating patients who are infected with the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. Commonly found on the skin, these bacteria sometimes become strong enough to resist being killed by Methicillin and other antibiotics.

"The hospital is very aggressive in screening patients for MRSA," she says. "In the past, the only way to test for MRSA was to perform a 'culture' test that took at least two days to produce results. Washington Hospital, however, has MRSA testing equipment that gives results in about an hour, enabling us to identify infected patients right away. That helps us ensure that all hospital staff members who come in contact with those patients take extra precautions to avoid the spread of infection. We also track all MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant infections such as Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) infections."

In addition to these precautions to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, Washington Hospital provides flu shots to all employees.

"This year, we also gave pertussis - whooping cough - vaccines to all employees because there has been an enormous increase in the number of pertussis cases in California," she says. "It's very important for anyone who cares for infants to be vaccinated against pertussis. The disease may not produce substantial symptoms in adults - they may not even realize they have it. Whooping cough can be very serious for babies, though, especially for those under two months old who cannot be vaccinated. So far this year in California, there have been eight deaths attributed to pertussis, and most of those deaths were infants under six months old."

But healthcare workers are not the only ones responsible for preventing infections.

"It's important for people to watch out for their own health," Dr. Martin says. "That means getting your annual flu vaccine. People over age 65 and others who are at risk for developing pneumonia - including those with chronic conditions such as emphysema, diabetes, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis or a compromised immune system - should also get the pneumonia vaccine. Be sure all your other vaccinations are also up-to-date. Young moms, particularly, should make sure to get a pertussis vaccine 'booster' shot".

For children, the hospital's Washington on Wheels (W.O.W.) Mobile Health Clinic makes prearranged visits to local schools to make sure kids get the appropriate vaccinations. Washington Urgent Care located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) also offers the 2010-2011 flu vaccine that provides protection against three strains of flu-causing viruses: H3N2, H1N1 and an influenza B virus.

"Besides getting all the appropriate vaccinations and washing your hands frequently, there are other things you can do to prevent the spread of infectious diseases," Dr. Martin explains. "Cough or sneeze into a tissue - or, if you don't have a tissue handy, into your elbow - rather than your hands. Don't share towels, beverage containers, eating utensils or other personal items with other people. Don't visit people in the hospital if you're sick, and don't go to school or work if you're sick. Many people today have the option of working from home when they're ill.

"If you do have a viral infection such as a cold or the flu, don't push your doctor to prescribe antibiotics," she adds. "Antibiotics work only on bacteria, not on viruses. Continued overuse of antibiotics is what has resulted in the development of bacteria such as MRSA and VRE that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics."

Learn More

To find more information about infection control issues, visit the CDC's Web site at www.cdc.gov or the APIC's Web site at www.apic.org. To learn more about Washington Hospital's community initiatives and programs visit www.whhs.com.

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