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Coronavirus: Our Infection Prevention Specialist on Protecting Ourselves

Brooke Hossfeld, MPH, CIC, MLS (ASCP)CM is an Infection Prevention Specialist with Sodexo Healthcare, developing our infection prevention protocol – Protecta. She partners with hospitals to reduce infection rates and is currently advising the Sodexo community on how to prepare for and prevent the spread of Coronavirus. We asked her advice on prevention.

Q. What is Coronavirus and how contagious is it?

BH: Coronavirus is the name for a family of viruses. It’s the same viral family that gave rise to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012. Given the respiratory nature of this family of viruses, Wuhan Coronavirus included, transmission is via air by coughing or sneezing, close contact with someone who is ill, or by touching contaminated items or surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands. This virus is a concern for public health globally because it is new and because it is being transmitted rapidly from human-to-human and can cause serious illness including Pneumonia. It is no more or less contagious than any of the other viruses from the Coronavirus family.

Q. What makes someone vulnerable? 

BH: As with any illness, the young and the elderly are the most at risk. Other vulnerable populations would be those with existing comorbidities, such as asthma or COPD. Additionally, anyone who has a chronic condition, such as diabetes or hepatitis may also be at risk. Viral infections are most harmful to individuals who have a compromised immune system and are not able to fight off the illness, leaving them susceptible to infection.

Q. What can I do to protect myself, particularly if I am a caregiver?

BH: One of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of viral illnesses is to get vaccinated. However, with the Wuhan Coronavirus, there is no vaccine currently available. The best thing anyone can do to prevent illness is to wash your hands and wash them often. If you are going to be in a crowded area, an extra layer of protection would be to wear a mask. Avoid close contact with anyone displaying respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, fever) and sanitize everyday items often (cell phone, sink knobs, toilet handles, etc.).

During epidemics, it is the caretakers who become ill over the course of treating others. It is very important that caregivers take care of themselves. Listen to your body — if you feel ill, stay home from work or school. Don’t take the risk of potentially transmitting Coronavirus to your coworkers, friends, or loved ones. 

Q. What can we do more broadly in the healthcare community to prevent this from becoming a global epidemic? 

BH: Hospitals and clinics can have a good cleaning and disinfecting program in place. Cleaning with soap and water is good, but not enough; a good chemical disinfectant will eliminate the virus. 

Making sure surfaces and equipment are being wiped down after every patient is a good practice to follow. 

The extra precaution will have the added effect of demonstrating to patients and visitors that the facility is working to combat the virus. And, may persuade them to use extra care at home and in their workplace.

To learn more about the virus, visit the CDC Coronavirus website and the World Health Organization special section.

January 29, 2020

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