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Common sources of infection in a healthcare environment

Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) are a type of infection that occur at hospitals and other care facilities. Also known as nosocomial infections, they can cause patient conditions to worsen and, in some cases, cause death.

HAIs also raise  healthcare costs by increasing the rate of hospital readmissions and the need for additional treatment. For example a patient with a mild condition may develop a serious infection that requires more time and resources to address.

A 2017 report from researchers at Avondale College of Higher Education estimated the rate of HAIs to be 165,000 per year in Australia. However, because HAIs can be difficult to track, they often go unnoticed. It is up to healthcare administrators to ensure policies are in place to reduce the likelihood of infections spreading from patient to patient.

Locating reservoirs of infection

Understanding the potential sources of infection within a healthcare facility is the first step to reducing the risk of HAIs. In healthcare circles, these are known as reservoirs of infection because they can hold different types of pathogens and microorganisms.

Maintenance personnel in healthcare facilities should know all potential reservoirs. Administrators should develop checklists for how to clean and maintain patient rooms and common areas. When maintaining patient rooms, cleaning staff may need one checklist for when a patient is occupying a room and another for after the patient is discharged.

In cases where a patient is known to have a highly infectious disease, stricter sanitisation procedures may be required.

Here are some examples of common sources of infection in a healthcare setting:

Door handles

Patients, visitors, healthcare providers and facility staff may touch door handles multiple times each day, making them a primary reservoir of infections. Cleaning staff should wipe down door handles with microfibre cloths that can remove 99.9% of microbes, which act as a food source of live pathogens.

Floors

Dirty shoes and equipment can spread infectious pathogens from room to room. Floors should be washed with dust mops and damp mops to remove potential sources of infection. Likewise, spills should be cleaned and sanitised immediately using the proper spill kit. Cleaning materials used on bodily fluids should be disposed of in properly labelled containers.

Laundry and linens

Porous materials like bed linens, patient gowns, towels and window curtains can hold onto pathogens for longer periods of time. Used linens should be placed in laundry bags and brought directly to the laundry facilities for sanitisation. Soiled linens should be removed immediately to prevent pathogens from spreading around the patient's room.

Lavatories

Patient lavatories can be one of the biggest reservoirs of infectious pathogens. They should be cleaned daily and after patient discharge. Cleaning personnel should use microfibre cloths to wipe down mirrors, sinks, faucets and all other surfaces. Waste containers should be emptied and any consumable supplies should be restocked.

Medical equipment

Any medical equipment in a patient's room is a potential source of infection. Patient call buttons, monitors, blood pressure cuffs, etc., should be wiped down and disinfected after each use. Cleaning carts should be stocked with disposable microfibre cloths to wipe down and sanitise equipment.

Furniture

Beds, chairs and cabinets are all high-touch objects that must be cleaned daily and after patient discharge. Visitors can unknowingly bring in pathogens from the outside world and deposit them on hospital furniture. Chairs in common areas should be cleaned regularly.

Dry-erase markers

Most patient rooms contain a whiteboard and markers for noting important information. These objects can go unnoticed because they're not directly related to patient care. However, many people come in contact with these objects, including patients, visitors and healthcare providers. They should be wiped down daily.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Face masks, gloves and other PPE can be potential sources of infection. For example, if someone wearing gloves touches a reservoir then touches a piece of furniture, pathogens may move from one surface to the other. All PPE should be disposed of or sanitised appropriately. When working with patients with known infectious diseases, healthcare providers should dispose of their PPE in specially marked containers.

Healthcare workers and visitors

Any person within a healthcare facility can be a potential vector of infection. Maintaining proper hand-washing techniques and wearing PPE is essential to reducing the potential impact of person-to-person interactions.

It's vital to have the right cleaning supplies and products to maintain rigorous infection control. An effective cleaning solution improves patient outcomes and reduces unnecessary costs, while also raising the facility's public image and perception.

Learn more about Rubbermaid Commercial Products® healthcare cleaning solutions.

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