Expect to Get Sick Sometimes
Being a health care worker does not give you an automatic immunity to illness of any sort. Sometimes students studying diseases, pathology, and microbiology tend to develop some or all of the signs and symptoms and consequently diagnose themselves with every disease they encounter. This usually fades after a semester or so, but actual exposure to germs is inevitable.
Surrounded by Germs
Hospitals in particular are notorious for harboring germs, and when your patients tell you they could recover more quickly at home, it's often true. Nosocomial (hospital-bred) infections are responsible for far too many deaths each year. One of the most common is pneumonia, which can spread like wildfire if health care workers (and patients) are not careful to utilize proper infection-control measures.
MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci) have become huge infection-control issues. MRSA, for instance, can become colonized in nasal passages; it can last for years and cause workman's compensation nightmares. Effective hand washing, using gloves and gowns when indicated, as well as identification of the infection in patients and reporting to infection control staff is essential.
MRSA and VRE are two virulent, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that reside in hospitals. They are most prevalently found on bed rails and door handles. When an infected patient uses a tissue and then grabs for the bedrail, the germs are left on the bedrail. The nurse or therapist lets the bedrail down and has now transferred the germs to her hands.
Health care professionals are usually the worst at seeking care. They think they can treat themselves and often feel infallible. Health care is a physically demanding field and a very stressful one as well. These factors take a toll, help to reduce your natural immunity, and can leave you vulnerable to illness.
If you have any underlying disease processes such as diabetes, asthma, lupus, or other autoimmune diseases, you can find your risks increased because of the stressful demands of the job. You may need to take extra measures to keep your symptoms controlled.
Simple measures such as taking vitamins and minerals as recommended by your physician can help. Consuming a balanced diet and eating at regular intervals is important, as is drinking adequate fluids and emptying your bladder as needed. Getting plenty of sleep and taking breaks will help as well. This is not impossible in a health care setting. It can take a concerted effort and strong teamwork to ensure that it happens. Work with your coworkers to cover each other for breaks and meals, and encourage each other to improve these habits even on the busiest of hospital units.
Blood and other bodily fluids should always be treated as if they were contaminated. When you protect yourself, you also protect your patients and your family and friends.
Hand washing is the most effective form of infection control. It is vital that you wash your hands many times each day if you are in contact with patients. Of course, you will wash each time you visit the bathroom, but you also need to wash your hands before and after any patient contact. If you touch your mouth or your hair, you need to wash your hands again. If you use a tissue, you need to wash your hands afterward. If you handle any trash or patient equipment, you need to wash your hands after contact. When performing any procedures on a patient, you will need to wash your hands in between the dirty and clean aspects in addition to doing so before and after the procedure.
Hand washing involves at least twenty to thirty seconds of contact with soap and comfortably warm water. Use friction to scrub the palms, wrists, and backs of the hands as well as the fingers and to clean under fingernails. Rinse from the wrists downward until the water runs clear. Use a clean paper towel to dry your hands and another to turn off the faucet and to open the door after washing your hands.
If you're going to come in contact with any blood products or bodily fluids, you also need to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This equipment includes items such as gloves, goggles, aprons, gowns, masks, shoe booties, and hairnets. You don't need to don the full suit of armor for each event, but you will need to follow protocols and common sense. Blood products and bodily fluids should be considered contaminated for all intents and purposes for your protection and for the protection of the patients and other health care workers.
If any surface is contaminated, you will need to follow protocol for your facility to clean it up. This will usually involve a bleach solution. here may be a need for special spill absorption substances as well.
Keep fingernails trimmed and short. Most facilities frown on or prohibit the use of artificial nails of any sort. Hair should be short if possible or tied back so that it is not flying into your field of vision or contaminating any clean or sterile field. If you touch your hair, you need to rewash your hands.