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Infection prevention is in your hands

Here are some tips on how to stay healthy in the months ahead

October 18, 2009
Messenger News

Everything you need to know about infection prevention you learned in kindergarten. Well, almost - except for sharing - I don't want you to do that, at least when it comes to germs. Sharing information is good. Health care providers consistently focus on infection prevention and control to improve the health of our patients and community. Trinity Regional Medical Center provides significant resources to prevent and control infectious disease processes. Interdisciplinary teams use current research and evidence-based practice guidelines to improve care and prevent infections related to different procedures. Infection prevention and control can sometimes be very complex, but the basics are the least costly and most easy to practice.

The basics are:

cleaning hands,

cleaning surfaces, equipment and

covering coughs.

At Trinity Regional Medical Center we use hands in-hands out. Making sure our hands are clean as we enter a room and clean as we leave a room. We do this so we do not spread germs. This is done either with soap and water, or hand sanitizer. Another basic is, ''cover your cough.'' Our schools and day care providers have done a great job of teaching this to our children. Another important practice is keeping our hands away from our faces, eyes, nose and mouth. The last basic exercise is cleaning. It is important to clean high-touch areas such as door knobs, telephones, keyboards. You may have noticed that Trinity and the Physician Office Buildings have stations with masks, tissues and hand sanitizer at the entrances. Patients coming for appointments who have a cough should use the masks. Many businesses also have hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes available.

Every one in our community can prevent the spread of infection by being aware and using the basics. The best example is what is happening now to prevent the spread of H1N1 influenza. The symptoms are the same as for regular (seasonal) influenza - fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and runny nose. However, with H1N1 we have also seen vomiting or diarrhea.

All Iowans received a card from Iowa Department of Public showing how to use the 3Cs: Cover your cough, Clean your hands, Contain your germs by staying home if you are sick. Getting a flu shot (or mist) was also included.

I think we all can do well with cleaning our hands and surfaces and in covering our coughs. Staying home and getting the vaccine seems to be harder to do for many people. With H1N1 influenza already in our communities and as we begin the cold and influenza season all of the pieces of infection prevention are important.

Many people have received their seasonal flu shot and are waiting for the H1N1 flu shot to arrive. Some people have concern that the H1N1 vaccine may not be safe, that it was rushed to be ready. You need to know it is as safe as the seasonal influenza vaccine.

Each year the seasonal flu vaccine has three different types (strains) of influenza. They are changed from year to year based on what is expected to be around during the season. The H1N1 vaccine is made by the same process, by the same companies and tested in the same way as the seasonal vaccine. In a normal influenza season, the H1N1 vaccine would have been put into the seasonal vaccine. Because the seasonal vaccine was already being made when the H1N1 influenza started, two vaccines had to be made. Next year, the H1N1 strain will likely be included in the seasonal vaccination. Another way to look at it is to use a baking example. You have a favorite cookie recipe but from time to time you change the ingredients. Instead of using chocolate chips and walnuts you use raisins and pecans. The dough remains the same the add-ins are different.

Just as the risks of not getting the seasonal flu vaccine are greater than the sore arm that may result from getting the shot, so it is with the H1N1 vaccine. This virus has the potential to cause serious illness and death. With influenza as with other illness caused by viruses, you can be spreading the virus before you feel ill enough to stay home. Receiving the vaccination is an effective way to help fight the spread of the virus. The seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine can be given at the same time, or at any time in regard to each, and in any sequence with one exception: if using the nasal spray vaccine for both the seasonal flu and H1N1, they should be given 4 weeks apart to ensure the best protection from both vaccines.

Since the vaccine is being given to states in small shipments over the coming weeks, it is important for residents to watch for information about when the vaccine is in their county and where vaccine clinics will be held. How and who gives the flu vaccine may vary from county to county, but all are following priority groups defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People in priority groups are at highest risk to be infected or to have complications from infection. Priority groups are used when supply is limited to be sure those at highest risk are vaccinated first.

The following are the CDC priority groups: pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel, people 6 months through 24 years of age, people 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for H1N1 influenza infection because of chronic health problems or weak immune systems. When vaccine amounts are very limited these groups are made even smaller to reach priority among them, i.e., people 6 months through 4 years of age and health care and emergency services workers with direct care, children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical problems.

The last piece is to stay home when sick or having symptoms. This means staying home from work, school, shopping, church and other community activities. With our great Midwestern work ethic it is very difficult for people to stay home when they have work to do or have volunteered for something. Since the virus is spread through coughing, sneezing or coming in contact with surfaces someone has coughed or sneezed onto and then touching one's eyes, nose or mouth, it is important for sick people to stay home. Employers should work with employees so they know it is OK to stay home when sick. People are infectious one day before symptoms and up to seven days after or 24 hours after symptoms resolve. People who have influenza symptoms should stay home for 24 hours after their fever is gone without using fever reducing medication.

It is also very important that people who are sick (fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea) refrain from visiting patients in the hospital. Patients need support from their family and friends, but not if those people are ill. We want to keep our patients safe. A telephone call or an E-Greeting (available through Trinity's Web site, will be much safer for our patients. E-Greetings at Trinity are delivered to the patient as soon as it is received.

Last but not least, we need to make sure we are taking good care of ourselves. A healthy diet, plenty of rest and regular exercise goes a long way in building a strong immune system. And remember the 3Cs: Clean your hands, Cover your cough, Contain your illness by staying home, and get both of the influenza vaccines.

A statewide toll-free hotline has been established for public questions about seasonal and H1N1 influenza at (800) 447-1985. More information can also be found at For local information you may call Trinity Healthy Living, 574-6433, or Webster County Health Department, 573-4107. Additional information is also available on Trinity Regional Medical Center's Web site and Trinity's new Facebook page. For medical questions, please call My Nurse at (877) 247-8899.

Linda Opheim, a registered nurse, is the employee health/infection prevention coordinator at Trinity Regional Medical Center.



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