When it comes to infection control, caregivers and loved ones both can play an important role in stopping a serious illness from spreading. An elderly or immune-compromised person is typically more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses which potentially could develop into a critical, even fatal, condition.
Infections can be transmitted through contaminated air, personal contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, blood borne pathogens or open skin tears. While accidents happen and some things simply are beyond human control, a caregiver is able to limit infections in a loved one through some personal safety precautionary measures. They can take the “I” out of infections.
Wash your hands!
Experts agree proper hand washing is the single most important factor in infection control. At a minimum, a caregiver should wash their hands thoroughly:
when they first arrive;
before handling linens or meals;
before and after eating, drinking or smoking;
after using the bathroom;
after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose; and
after touching anything that may be dirty.
It is considered acceptable practice to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in place of hand washing. It’s quicker, gentler on the skin than soap and water, and can be used anywhere as they don’t require a sink and faucet to administer.
However, if hands are soiled with dirt or bodily fluids, old-fashioned soap and water washing is required to ensure hands are clean and debris-free.
“Standard precautions” is a phrase heard most often in hospital or nursing surroundings. As more and more people are being cared for in their homes and by family members, it’s important all caregivers know these industry-standard infection control measures.
These measures really refer to the risk of transmitting blood borne pathogens, of which the most well-known are Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis D and HIV. These can all be life threatening and not easily identifiable. If a caregiver is not sure if a someone is a carrier, they should treat the person as if they were. This approach is not meant to make a loved one feel uncomfortable, but instead to protect everyone.
A caregiver should don protective wear if the possibility exists of becoming in contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Gloves are the most common, but gowns, masks, face shields and eye goggles are available and used regularly too.
Again, hand washing is important. If any exposure occurs, this is the first measure of infection control to take. Part of standard precautions is to make sure all needles, razors or broken glass is disposed of properly. This is a good tip for caregivers who help a loved one with any needle-administered medications.
Make time to learn
There are many opportunities to learn more about infection control methods. State and local health departments have information available and offer classes on the subject. The Internet is also brimming with articles and resources on this topic. Caregivers don’t have to guess at what measures are enough, or products are available, to control infection. It never hurts to ask a question that may prevent a more serious situation down the road. That’s putting the “I” back in infection control.
Today’s Caregiver magazine (caregiver.com), launched in 1995, is the first national magazine for all family and professional caregivers. Each issue includes articles on vital caregiving issues and caregiving resources. Cover interviews include Debbie Reynolds, Dixie Carter, Valerie Harper, Della Reese and Clay Aiken, among many others. © Caregiver.com, Inc.