In the U.S., 1 in 31 patients are affected by an HAI (healthcare acquired infection).This can mean a longer hospital stay, worsening condition or even death.

Nurses are the first line of defense ensuring that patients have the proper environment to receive the best possible care. This means making sure that they minimize their patients’ risk of contracting an HAI.

And the most effective weapon in a nurse’s arsenal is the use of infection prevention protocols.

Infection prevention protocols are meant to prevent the transmission of infection from patient to patient. If not properly followed, it could open up your patients to a host of infections, including:

  • Central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI)
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI)
  • Surgical site infection (SSI)
  • Ventilator-associated events (VAE)
  • MRSA
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Pneumonia
  • HBV, HCV
  • HIV

Employing infection prevention protocols aren’t just providing quality care for your patients; it’s also to keep you safe from infection on the job. Needle sticks, inadequate hand washing, improper use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and uncovered coughs can get you sick too.

So let’s review the CDC’s official Infection Prevention Protocols:

Hand Washing and Hand Hygiene

Hand washing is the primary way to prevent HAIs. The list of times when you should wash your hands is long, so just wash your hands whenever you touch anything that could be contaminated or just for good measure.

It’s recommended to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get between your fingers. Get a good lather and sing “Happy Birthday” twice or the “Alphabet Song” once. See the CDC guidelines here.

Using PPE

With PPE in high demand because of COVID-19, using and having proper access to PPE can sometimes be difficult.  PPE includes masks, shields, gowns, gloves, glasses or anything that provides a barrier to bodily fluids.

Use PPE whenever you are at risk of being exposed to any type of bodily fluid, giving an injection, touching a patient or cleaning bodily fluids.

Using Safe Injection Practices

After outbreaks of hepatitis B and C at healthcare facilities, it’s clear that safe injection practices need to be seriously followed. These practices include:

  • Using a new needle for every new vial or IV bag
  • If possible, using a medication vial for only one patient
  • Using a new needle for each injection, especially if administering medication to multiple patients

Preventing Needle-sticks and Sharps Injuries

Healthcare workers experience 600,000 to1 million needle sticks and sharps injuries per year. A needle-stick or sharps injury risks infection with a host of blood-borne pathogens, including hepatitis, HIV and others.

Here’s some steps to take:

  • Always wear gloves when giving injections
  • Dispose of needles and sharps in proper containers
  • Don’t recap a needle after an injection – use a needle safety device

Practice Cough Etiquette

A cough or sneeze can spray bodily fluids up to 21 feet away. Practice proper respiratory/cough etiquette by:

  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue, then disposing of it properly
  • Sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm if no tissue is available
  • Perform hand hygiene (wash your hands) after a cough or sneeze
  • Patients in a waiting room with a respiratory problem should wear a mask and be separated from others by at least 3 feet

Clean the Environment and Equipment

Keep environmental surfaces clean (especially waiting rooms) and wipe down equipment such as stethoscopes, scissors, hemostats, etc. Use a disposable cleaning wipe or chlorhexidine solution. Do it frequently.

Staying Aware

All of these things should become second nature. But even if you religiously do every procedure on the list, a moment’s distraction can be all it takes to transmit a disease. Here’s some ways to help keep you sharp and reduce mistakes:

  • Banish distractions – anything in your environment that is distracting you, get rid of it.
  • Be mindful – focus on what you’re doing, the task at hand. Don’t get distracted by your own thoughts.
  • Take safety seriously – whatever your level of experience, don’t cut corners.
  • Write it down – create a safety checklist that you can follow

You are the patient’s best advocate and first line of defense against HAIs. Use these simple guidelines, review them regularly and you’ll make sure your patients get quality, compassionate care and the best health outcome.

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