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3 Key Steps to Preventing An Infection Outbreak in Hospitals

In 2014, it was Ebola in a California hospital. 

In 2015, it was gastrointestinal infections in an Illinois hospital. 

In 2016, it was fungal bloodstream infections in a New York nursing home. 

In 2017, it was Legionnaires’ disease in a Georgia hospital. 

In 2020, it was COVID-19 across the entire country.

This list of infection outbreaks in healthcare facilities is just the tip of the iceberg — and they continue to occur to this day. 

Hospitals are a place where patients seek quality healthcare and a safe space for healing. Unfortunately, on any given day, 1 in 25 patients has an infection related to hospital care — causing their health to be even worse than it was before. 


The Potential Impact of Effective Infection Prevention - The implementation of existing infection prevention practices can reduce certain hospital-associated infections (HAIs) by up to 70% and save up to $31.5 billion in medical costs in the US. Source: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion


Preventing an infection outbreak in your hospital is critical to ensuring the safety of patients, workers, and visitors. In addition, it plays a significant role in the reputation and success of your hospital. 

Here are 3 key steps to preventing an infection outbreak in your hospital.


1. Require strict adherence to proper hand hygiene — and make it convenient to follow. 

Handwashing is the cornerstone of infection prevention. As the World Health Organization puts it, “Save lives, clean your hands.” It really is that simple. 

Well, at least it should be. 

Unfortunately, hand hygiene is not followed nearly as much as recommended — which, depending on the number of patients intensity of care, could be up to 100 times per 12-hour shift. 


The Lack of Handwashing in Healthcare - Some healthcare providers follow proper hand hygiene less than half of the time they should. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Start with educating your team members about how to properly practice hand hygiene. This includes: 

  • Washing with soap and water for at least 15 seconds
  • Knowing when to use soap and water vs. hand sanitizer 
    • Using an alcohol-based sanitizer if hands aren’t visibly dirty  
    • Using soap and water as well as gloves in cases of suspected C. difficile, as this pathogen is not killed by hand sanitizer
  • Paying extra attention to frequently missed areas, such as thumbs, fingertips, and between fingers
  • Cleaning hands after using gloves and replacing them as necessary, such as if gloves become damaged
  • Using the correct amount of soap or hand sanitizer to thoroughly clean hands 

Effective infection prevention requires more than educating your team members about hand hygiene. It’s just as important to provide the resources to allow them to do so. This means having soap always stocked next to sinks and placing hand sanitizers in convenient areas. 

Make hand hygiene readily available and easy to follow, and educate your team members to take it from there.


2. Stock up on — and require the proper use of — personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) makes the world — or hospitals — go round. Not only does PPE protect healthcare workers from contracting an infectious disease, but it also protects patients that workers interact with. 

Germs don’t move by themselves — they move through contact, sprays (like a cough), or inhalation. Personal protective equipment is designed to prevent germs from making it from the source, such as a patient or a countertop, to a susceptible person. 

Critical PPE includes: 

  • Masks, which stop the spread of germs from the nose and mouth as well as inhalation of germs
  • Eye protection, such as face shields and goggles, which shields the mucous membranes in the eyes, where germs can enter the body
  • Special clothing, such as gowns, aprons, head coverings, and shoe covers, which are often used for surgery or when patients with an infectious disease are in isolation 

In addition to having PPE readily available, make sure your team members know how to ensure its highest degree of effectiveness. 


The Shocking Misuse of PPE - In 2016, a study of 16 acute care medical/surgical units and 4 intensive care units revealed that in 7 months, there were more than 280 PPE failures that occurred in 3 categories — violations, mistakes, and slips. Source: Healthcare Finance News


Not using PPE in the correct way can lead to disastrous results, such as HAIs, poor safety scores, low public rankings, and government penalties. In the end, proper use of PPE requires skill, training, and knowledge regarding its protocols and risks — and it’s up to hospital leaders to provide that. 


3. Frequently and effectively clean all areas in your facility. 

The source of germs is often thought to be people, and hospitals go to great lengths to keep infectious diseases from spreading from person-to-person. But germs are also in the environment — and they are just as threatening to patient safety. 

Examples of environmental sources of germs include: 

  • Dry surfaces, such as bed rails, medical equipment, countertops, and tables
  • Wet surfaces, moist environments, and biofilms (microorganisms that attach to surfaces and form a protective layer), such as cooling towers, sinks and faucets, and ventilators
  • Indwelling medical devices, such as IV lines and catheters
  • Dust or decaying debris, such as dust from construction or water leaks  

Just as handwashing is integral to preventing an outbreak, so is the washing of the environment and equipment. Environmental contamination is highly associated with major outbreaks of pathogens, such as: 

  • Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE)
  • Clostridioides difficile (C.diff)
  • Acinetobacter baumannii 

If a patient enters a room that was previously inhabited by an infected patient, their chances of contracting the disease are significant if the environment isn’t cleaned properly. What’s more, certain pathogens can live outside the body for months. 


How Long Can Pathogens Survive on Hospital Surfaces? One laboratory-based study revealed that Acinetobacter spp. can survive up to 5 months and Klebsiella spp. can survive up to 30 months outside on surfaces. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Environmental services (EVS) teams play a critical role in patient safety. Cleaning a hospital environment requires training, knowledge, and collaboration with the rest of the hospital to effectively break the chain of infectious disease transmission. 


Prevention, Preparedness, and Collaboration 

Hospitals are always working to prevent the spread of infection. But as they continue to experience outbreaks, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. While taking every step to prevent an infectious disease outbreak is key, it’s also important to have a plan if an outbreak does occur. 

Your team members should know exactly what their role is and what the next steps are. From there, your hospital can work together to prevent further transmission and keep patients safe. 

Do you have questions about infection prevention? Contact Sodexo.

August 05, 2020

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