Amid swine flu fears, hand washing is imperative

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This seems to be the season of animal-related nuisances—mice, cockroaches, and now the dreaded swine flu.

Of course, you can take precautions against the first two (click here to see our latest Guest Column), but the third is a bit more frightening as a result of its unpredictable nature. As of today, 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. but no deaths. There have been as many as 1,600 swine flu infections in Mexico and reports of more than 100 deaths.

The best precaution against this potential pandemic is the same one that nursing homes should be using against any flu that spreads its way, sneeze-by-sneeze, droplet-by-droplet, through a facility.
That is hand washing, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

“Your healthcare professional should wash or gel their hands immediately before an examination,” said APIC President Christine J. Nutty, in a public statement.

She adds that patients also should wash their hands, “especially after using the restroom and touching surfaces like IV poles, bed rails, call buttons and key pads.” (For more on hand washing protocols and other preventive swine flu measures, see information below this story.)

As familiar as we are with the merits of hand washing, they are still often overlooked. Some of the biggest offenders, as we know, are caregivers.

The Joint Commission recently released a report about measuring caregivers’ adherence to hand hygiene guidelines. As the foreword to the report notes, “The practice of hand hygiene has long been recognized as the most important way to reduce the transmission of pathogens in health care settings.”

Of course, hand hygiene alone will not necessarily prevent the spread of infection. APIC today urged public health officials to call on the nation’s infection preventionists to help stop the potential spread of the flu.These people are experts at preventing the transmission of infections and work with their local public health authorities on a regular basis.

“The increasing threat of swine flu raises the need to disseminate education surrounding prevention and viral transmission,” Nutty said.

So the best way to protect yourselves and your facilities may be to stay alert, become educated—and, when in doubt, use some soap and water.

Hand washing etiquette:

The No. 1 way to prevent infection is through frequent hand washing with soap and water for 20-30 seconds, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. If soap and water are not available, use an antiseptic hand cleaner that contains at least 60% alcohol. Healthcare workers should wash their hands before and after coming in contact with patients.

Other preventive practices for the public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

-    Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
-    Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
-    Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
-    If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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