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6 Ways Nurses Can Prevent and Control Infection — At Home and at Work

Healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic have a single priority: caring for their patients. However, the intensity of the pandemic means they must also ensure their own health and safety.

This caution must also extend to the safety of their loved ones. Just one misstep could have grave consequences for an entire household. This is especially true in homes with one or more immunocompromised family members.

By taking proper precautionary measures, nurses and other healthcare workers can improve their efforts to contain the coronavirus — and any other infectious disease.

Best Practices for Infection Prevention and Control

Infection prevention and control is not new. Learning about sterilization is a key part of a nurse’s education. However, a frenzied emergency department is much different than a controlled classroom setting. It’s easy to overlook or forget critical steps. Unintentional or not, neglecting best practices puts everyone at risk.

Here are six evidence-based infection prevention and control practices nurses should be employing at all times.

1) Wash Your Hands, the Right Way

Many people don’t understand the correct way to wash their hands thoroughly enough to eliminate all contaminants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the following steps:

  • Use clean, running water, and lather with soap — make sure to cover the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse well, and dry with a clean paper towel, clean cloth towel, or simply air-dry.
  • Use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door, then dispose of the towel.

2) Use Hand Sanitizer When Handwashing Isn’t an Option

In certain situations, hand sanitizer may be the best a nurse can do. While it is not as effective as handwashing, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content can reduce the number of germs. The CDC recommends rubbing the sanitizer on all surfaces until your hands are dry (about 20 seconds).

3) Follow All Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Instructions

All the masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, and goggles you’ve seen healthcare workers wear during the pandemic are preventing infection. However, to get the most out of this equipment, it’s important to follow all PPE guidelines — including those on how to remove it.

“Many times, nurses and others contaminate themselves when they remove PPE,” cautions Luci Perri, MSN, MPH, RN, CIC, FAPIC, CSPDT, owner and president of Infection Control Results. “It’s essential all the correct steps are followed to prevent contaminating yourself and others by accurately putting on and taking off your PPE.”

This guide from the CDC offers the proper sequences for putting on and taking off PPE equipment.

4) Follow Disinfectant Protocol

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have done a good job of ramping up their disinfecting efforts, even bringing in external teams specifically skilled in this practice. However, it’s still important for nurses to disinfect surfaces throughout their shifts — especially high-touch surfaces like keyboards, computers, phones, countertops, doorknobs and light switches.

Different solutions vary in terms of how long the disinfectant needs to remain on a surface. Be sure to follow the instructions for each type of disinfectant to ensure its effectiveness.

5) Take Extra Precautions Upon Returning Home

There’s still much we don’t know about certain modes of COVID-19 transmission. It’s unclear whether it can survive on clothing or shoes — although one study published by the CDC suggests that the virus may be able to live on the soles of shoes.

Experts advise undressing outside the home (e.g. a garage or a backyard) or immediately after going inside. Wash scrubs and any other clothing right away, and leave shoes outside or in a vehicle. Keep a separate pair of shoes for non-work activities. You should also shower and wash your hair before interacting with other household members.

6) In Dire Situations Like the COVID-19 Pandemic, Do Everything You Can

Not every health crisis over the course of a nurse’s career will be as intense as the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, one would hope very few scenarios will be this dangerous. In these circumstances, however, nurses may have to go to extreme lengths to prevent transmitting the disease to family members. Some nurses are even living away from home — either in a hotel or with a colleague.

Given the massive worldwide devastation the virus has caused, many nurses are assuming the attitude of “you can never be too careful” — especially when it comes to protecting others. For Jane Gerencser, a nurse highlighted in a recent Washington Post article, duty extends beyond the hospital doors.

“There is a tremendous amount of fear and guilt that we could bring this home and hurt people that we love,” she shared. “We have had colleagues who lived with elderly parents, who unfortunately have gotten sick and have had their parents get sick and pass.”

We’re All in This Together

The COVID-19 virus is alarming, but studies have shown we can reduce transmission with the practices detailed above. Nurses and other healthcare workers who use these infection prevention and control measures can significantly help slow the spread.

Learn more about A-State’s online RN to BSN program.

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