Celebrate International Infection Prevention Week with healthy habits
By Mary Wade Triplett
I remembered this story courtesy of International Infection Prevention Week, which lasts through Saturday. Officials from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) provide several helpful hints on how to avoid infection, and one of them is to speak up. Washing your hands is the No. 1 habit to adopt to avoid infection.
You should wash your hands after using the bathroom, after sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing; before eating; when visiting someone who is sick, or whenever your hands are dirty. One of my tactics is when I must sneeze, I aim for my elbow instead of my hand. And then I still wash my hands. On visits to see health care professionals, if you don’t see them clean their hands, it’s OK to do what I did and ask them to do it.
International Infection Prevention Week focuses on how infections occur both in and outside of a health care setting. Outside of a hospital, we feel like we have more control over our lives as we make choices to wash our hands and have more opportunities to see if the people we interact with do the same.
Infections also can happen when you are spending time in the hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on any given day, one in 25 hospital patients has at least one health care-associated infection, although the rate of hospital infections has decreased in recent years.
Patients can become infected during the use of devices in medical procedures such as catheters and ventilators. Some common health care-associated infections (HAIs) include central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Infections also may occur at surgery sites. This is called a surgical site infection.
As a patient, you may feel like there is little you can do to avoid these types of infections. Of course, the first step is to stay out of the hospital. It can’t always be avoided, but healthy daily routines are a good start.
First, make sure to get any vaccinations you might need. This is especially true now as we approach flu season. Most people who get the flu don’t end up in the hospital, but some do, especially if they are especially young or old or if they have underlying medical conditions. You can get your flu vaccine here at the Monongalia County Health Department. In fact, we’re holding walk-in clinics on Fridays in October from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., although appointments are still preferred if possible.
In addition to your flu vaccine, there also is hand-washing. That’s a great way not only to avoid flu but also other illnesses, from the common cold to a stomach virus. Having health insurance also helps because individuals with health insurance are more likely to get preventive care that will keep them healthy.
Also, because this year’s theme for International Infection Prevention Week is antibiotic resistance, it’s a good time to go over APIC’s advice of antimicrobial stewardship. This essentially means to avoid taking antibiotics unless you really need them. For instance, if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics, which fight harmful bacteria, will not help fight the illness—unless you also happen to get an infection such as bronchitis, that is. And when it comes to washing your hands or even selecting body wash, avoid antibacterial soap.
Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems, APIC officials note. Infectious organisms adapt to the antimicrobials designed to kill them, making the drugs ineffective. People infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer, more expensive hospital stays, and may be more likely to die as a result of an infection.
There are a lot of resources so you can read up for yourself how to avoid infection. Check out the CDC and APIC websites. The American Hospital Association offers a toolkit specifically on antimicrobial stewardship. So, wash up, read up and stay healthy. And if you want to make an appointment to get your flu vaccine, call MCHD at 304-598-5119.