Top Ways to Prevent Hospital Infections
By Erin Wallace, Contributor
Many nurses are at the forefront of germ zones in hospitals. Working with patients and tending to their needs, puts many nurses in a position where they can prevent hospital infections. We’ve outlined simple ways that nurses can take charge and lead the way for others to adopt.
In a recent study, the New England Journal of Medicine published a Multistate Point-Prevalence Survey of Health Care Associated-Infections which was conducted by a group of practicing physicians. It assessed 183 acute care hospitals in the United States and revealed that approximately 1 in every 25 inpatients “developed at least one healthcare-associated infection per day.” The most common infection was clostridium difficile, often called C. diff for short, a bacterium that causes diarrhea and colitis.
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How to Prevent Hospital Infections
High-touch surfaces, such as inanimate objects or surfaces in patient care areas that are handled frequently by multiple people, can cause them to become contaminated. As a result, the CDC recommends disinfecting high-touch surfaces more frequently than other areas.
1. Use Privacy curtains
Hospital privacy curtains are at high risk for cross-contamination because they are frequently touched by hospital personnel and may not be cleaned or changed often enough.
A pilot study examined the rate of contamination of hospital privacy curtains in a burn ward by tracking the contamination rates of 10 freshly laundered privacy curtains over the course of 21 days. It found that the curtains in patients' rooms became increasingly contaminated over time. By day 14, 87 percent of them tested positive for MRSA. In contrast, curtains not placed in patient rooms stayed clean during the entire three-week period.
2. Hospital bed linens
Sheets and linens are another common hospital surface that often becomes contaminated. Some studies have found that even commercial washing machines sometimes fail to remove all traces of the C. diff bacterium from bed linens.
3. Sinks and water sources
This one might seem surprising because sinks are what's used to wash and clean hands, hospital water may serve as a source of healthcare-associated infections and can lead to outbreaks thanks to common waterborne pathogens. These can be transmitted by direct and indirect contact, ingestion and aspiration of contaminated water.
To help prevent this, hospitals can refrain from using sinks to dispose of clinical waste, store materials away from sinks (aside from wall-mounted soap dispensers and paper towels) and keep sinks separate from examination areas.
- The study found many other hospital surfaces with contamination present, including:
- Healthcare personnel clothing, including scrubs, lab coats, neckties and wristwatches
- Blood product transfusions
What can nurses do to keep their work areas clean?
The most important thing a nurse can do to prevent infection is to focus on hand hygiene. Each hospital, doctor's office or other medical facility usually has its own recommended hand washing procedures, and the World Health Organization has their own 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene as a guideline:
Health care workers should clean their hands:
- Before touching a patient
- Before clean/aseptic procedures
- After body fluid exposure/risk
- After touching a patient
- After touching patient surroundings
Hospitals can also ensure that appropriate environmental cleaning practices and sterilization and disinfection procedures occur multiple times per day. Disinfection procedures vary widely among hospitals, and there is no one standard to follow.
The next time you start your shift, remember to protect yourself from infection as much as possible. Use proper hand washing techniques, wear disposable gloves when necessary and be sure to disinfect surfaces frequently.