What is Infection Prevention Week?
International Infection Prevention Week is observed annually between the 16th and 22nd of October to recognise the importance of infection prevention in protecting public health.
The week is organised by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology to explain the science behind infection prevention and stress the importance of countering the spread of dangerous medical misinformation.
This year’s theme is ‘The Future is Infection Prevention’ and seeks to emphasise the role that individuals and healthcare professionals alike can play in protecting the health and safety of their communities.
For decades, the responsibility of infection was primarily with healthcare professionals and epidemiologists, protecting us from surges in hospital-related infections and disease outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has shown the world the need for more collective efforts at infection protection in our homes, workplaces, transportation, and neighbourhood facilities.
This week aims to educate and encourage us to be more mindful about infection prevention strategies. This ranges from the quick identification of infection risk factors, infection prevention precautions, reducing the rates of transmission, and recovery from infection.
What is an infection?
An infection is when microorganisms, otherwise known as infectious agents, enter the body and increase in number in the body. These microorganisms can range from bacteria to viruses and parasites.
These microorganisms are not usually present within the body, which causes a reaction as the immune system attempts to fight the infectious agents. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, and diarrhoea.
The infection and severity of the symptoms can vary in severity from person-to-person. This is because they are dependent on factors such as the type of invading pathogen, age, health, and lifestyle.
Some infectious agents can be passed from person to person, while others are transmitted by insects, animals, or even consuming contaminated food and water.
It is likely that everyone will experience several infections in their lifetime. Most of these can be cured with basic medical interventions such as the use of antibiotics and antifungals.
How can you prevent an infection?
Infection prevention requires a collective and holistic approach from healthcare services, the department of health, and the general public.
At a government level, this includes funding and conducting risk assessments of existing and emerging microorganisms and strains that may cause an infectious outbreak. It is also the responsibility of the government to ensure this data is communicated clearly, effectively, and responsibly to the general public.
Healthcare settings are associated with high rates of infection. There are steps that can be taken in hospitals, GP surgeries, nursing homes, and drop-in clinics that can keep patients and visitors free from infection. These steps include:
- Maintain good hand hygiene.
- Sterilise shared patient equipment between uses.
- Wear personal protective equipment properly and securely at all times.
- Ensure healthcare workers stay at home if they are unwell with symptomatic respiratory illnesses.
- Safe injection practices.
- The implementation of antimicrobial stewardship programmes. These programmes promote the prudent and appropriate use of antimicrobials (e.g. antibiotics) to reduce microbial resistance, decrease the spread of infections caused by drug-resistant organisms, and improve patient outcomes.
On a social level, it is important to remember that a critical part of infection prevention depends on reducing the spread of harmful microbes in our homes and day-to-day lives. There are many small evidence-based precautions that make a huge difference in preventing or slowing down infection rates.
- Hand hygiene is the simplest way to prevent an infection from occurring.
- Practice cough etiquette. Covering sneezes and coughs when sick to keep airborne particles from infecting others.
- Practice safe sex. Using condoms and regular check-ups can significantly reduce your chances of contracting an STI.
- Safe food practices. Avoid using the same utensils or cutting boards with cooked meat that were used to prepare the raw meat without washing between uses.
- Keep your immunisations up to date. Vaccination is a simple and effective way to prevent the transmission of diseases from one person to another. Many diseases such as polio and measles are easily prevented with immunisation.
Infection prevention is a collective effort and each of us – families, healthcare workers, governments, patients – has an important role to play.