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The Infection Prevention Society elaborates on why effective hand washing, as well as a few other simple measures, can make all the difference in preventing winter infections.
As we head towards winter, it’s the perfect time for everyone – health care professionals and the public alike - to start thinking about ways to stay fit and well throughout the season and about how to prevent infection spread that can disrupt vital NHS services. Here, the Infection Prevention Society gives guidance on how to do so.
Hand hygiene is perhaps the most important way to prevent the spread of infection. Bacteria and viruses can easily be spread, and washing your hands correctly means potentially avoiding two colds a year and up to two episodes of diarrhoeal illness.
Soap and water is essential for the mechanical removal of organic material, however most soaps clean but do not disinfect. Alcohol hand rubs are a very effective means of disinfection when applied to physically clean surfaces, though they are less effective against some viruses such as Norovirus.
Proper use of both soap and hand rub is crucial to realise their full effectiveness. Hands should be washed with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice, and people must make sure to cover all their skin, washing between the fingers and on the wrists. It’s also easy to forgo drying your hands but this is arguably one of the most important steps, as wet hands pick up bacteria much more easily.
Healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) can present major risks to patient safety and also incur costs to the NHS of at least £1 billion each year. Providing the right environment in all healthcare settings - including hospitals, clinics, GPs and specialised care centres - is a vital part of minimising the risk of HCAIs and ensuring that healthcare professionals work in a setting that best supports them.
To ensure the best healthcare settings, infection prevention and control requirements need to be considered at the outset: enough well-placed hand hygiene facilities to meet demand; appropriate storage space; single-bed rooms with en-suite facilities for patient isolation; the right ventilation and airflow systems, especially in specialised facilities such as operating theatres; and facilities for decontamination of reusable medical equipment.
Whilst it is expected that healthcare professionals take great care to avoid spreading infections wherever possible, by following simple guidance like this, the wider community have the potential to make a huge difference in helping everyone stay well. There is never a guarantee that an individual can stay infection-free all year but straightforward steps like these can make an enormous difference in guarding yourself and those around you from infections.
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