With one of the worst flu seasons in a decade upon us, health officials say it’s more important than ever to employ good practices to control the spread of infections and avoid illness. Flu season could last into May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We need to be proactive not only to keep ourselves healthy, but to avoid transmitting illness if we’re sick,” said Eileen Finerty, RN, MS, CIC (certified in infection-control), director for infection control and occupational health at Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), which has a Physicians Office on Long Island, in Uniondale.
Special Surgery has one of the lowest infection rates of any hospital in the country and has been commended by the New York State Department of Health. The infection rate refers to all infections acquired by patients in the hospital, not only viruses such as those that cause the flu.
Infection control in the health care setting is critical. Nationwide, hospital-acquired infections result in 100,000 deaths each year.
“We emphasize infection control as a best practice,” said Thomas P. Sculco, M.D., surgeon–in-chief at Hospital for Special Surgery, “and strive to maintain it at every level of patient care - from washing hands to a clean and safe environment for our patients in the operating room and the entire hospital.”
The hospital employs a combination of infection-control measures, according to Ms. Finerty. Some are highly sophisticated and others are basic good practices.
Strategies used by the hospital to keep germs in check can be adapted for use at home and in everyday life, according to Ms. Finerty. These practices include:
1 – Good hand hygiene using sanitizers.
Hospital: Hand sanitizers located all around the hospital have a sensor that dispenses foam without the need to touch it. The sensor detects hand motion and automatically releases foam.
What everyone can do: Carry around an alcohol-based liquid hand cleaner. Use about a tablespoon, rub it into your hands and let it dry. Do not wipe it off. Ms. Finerty carries a hand sanitizer in her purse at all times.
2 – Frequent hand-washing.
Hospital: Hospital staff are instructed to wash their hands often. Signs around the hospital say: “Good Hand Hygiene Saves Lives.”
What everyone can do: Wash your hands for at least 30 seconds. You can sing “Happy Birthday” twice to get an idea of how long it should take. Work up a good lather and use friction.
3 – Good ventilation.
Hospital: Laminar flow in operating rooms employs special panels to direct air flow and provide the most sterile environment possible for the patient.
What everyone can do: Open the windows and let in some fresh air to ensure adequate ventilation. A stagnant, stuffy environment causes germs to re-circulate around the house.
4 – Controlling the spread of germs.
Hospital: The entire staff is trained in infection-control measures, such as coughing into a tissue and not into one’s hand. Boxes of tissues are located throughout the hospital. Staff are encouraged to stay home if they have a contagious illness.
What everyone can do: Carry tissues and dispose of them properly and immediately after coughing or sneezing. Then wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer. You can also cough into your sleeve to avoid getting germs on your hand that can later be spread.
In general, when you’re outside or at work, or if you have come in contact with a sick person, avoid touching your face. Germs on your hand get you sick when they enter your body through your eyes, nose or mouth, or through a break in the skin. Don’t go to work if you’re sick.
5 – Cleaning and disinfecting.
Hospital: HSS housekeeping staff is especially diligent about cleaning. The routine entails cleaning, sweeping and disinfecting surfaces, getting into cracks and crevices where bacteria can grow.
What everyone can do: Make it a habit to clean and disinfect surfaces, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. Be especially wary about kitchen sponges, which can harbor large amounts of bacteria. “When in doubt, throw it out,” Ms. Finerty advises.
If someone in the household is sick, regularly disinfect frequently-touched surfaces in the home. Telephones, sinks, toilets, counters, doorknobs and toys should be cleaned with warm water and dish detergent or with a household disinfectant.
6 – Flu shots.
Hospital: All staff are encouraged to get a flu shot, and the hospital has a high rate of compliance.
What everyone can do: Get a flu shot to lower the possibility of getting sick. It protects you and those around you.
7 – A separate room.
Hospital: Patients who have a contagious infection are given a private room.
What everyone can do: When a family member is sick, try to give the individual a separate space or room, and maintain a sanitary environment by disposing of tissues in a separate plastic trash bag. An uncovered cough can spray droplets and germs into the air so ask the sick person to cover a cough with tissues. Try to stay at least three feet away from people who are sick and coughing. The CDC recommends having sick children place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
8 – Diligence and good habits.
Hospital: Signs, staff training and hand sanitizers around the facility remind hospital employees of the importance of proper hygiene.
What everyone can do: Remember to maintain good practices and develop beneficial habits that will help keep you and those around you healthy.
About Hospital for Special Surgery’s Long Island Office
Hospital for Special Surgery’s Long Island Office is located at 333 Earle Ovington Boulevard, Suite 106, Uniondale. Telephone: 866.606.6888. Fifteen highly-specialized doctors practice in the Long Island office. Specialties include foot and ankle, hand/upper extremity, hip and knee, joint replacement, pediatric orthopedics and scoliosis, physiatry-focused spine and sports medicine, spine, sports medicine and shoulder surgery, and trauma. For more information, visit www.hss.edu/longisland.
About Hospital for Special Surgery
Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics, No. 3 in rheumatology, No. 10 in neurology and No. 5 in geriatrics by U.S. News & World Report (2012-13), and is the first hospital in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center three consecutive times. HSS has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. From 2007 to 2011, HSS has been a recipient of the HealthGrades Joint Replacement Excellence Award. HSS is a member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College and as such all Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are faculty of Weill Cornell. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.