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Protecting Yourself From Contagious Patients

The CDC estimates that about 99,000 Americans die each year from health-care acquired infections. Here’s how you can protect yourself and still offer good patient care.

The CDC estimates that about 99,000 Americans die yearly from healthcare-acquired infections. Here’s how you can protect yourself and still offer good patient care.

Healthcare settings are rife with opportunities to transmit infectious diseases, which pass from one person to the next through multiple routes:

  • Direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual or indirect contact by touching objects and surfaces an infected person has touched (such as doorknobs, instruments, and bed rails)
  • Through infectious droplets disseminated when a sick patient coughs, sneezes, or even talks close to a susceptible individual
  • Via airborne transmission of tiny droplets that float in the air and are inhaled by another person

Each mode of transmission is associated with different infections. For example, methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) are transmitted through direct contact. At the same time, tuberculosis and rubella are passed in airborne particles so they can spread over long distances. Although the mechanism is similar to airborne transmission, droplets are too big and heavy to be carried far. So these infectious diseases (most notably seasonal flu bugs) only infect individuals close to the source.

Knowing how and when to protect yourself can help prevent many infections. Here are some tips for avoiding infectious diseases in the healthcare setting:

  • Get vaccinated against seasonal flu and pneumonia.
  • Promote vaccination in the community and among all your patients.
  • Observe respiratory hygiene by asking sick patients to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and drop used tissues in receptacles.
  • Have patients who are actively coughing or sneezing wear masks to prevent droplet dissemination.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand wash for patients and use it frequently yourself.
  • Follow droplet precautions by wearing a face mask when examining sick patients, particularly those with fever.

For more detailed instructions, go to the OSHA and CDC websites:

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