As we age, our immune systems slow down and weaken and will take longer to fight off viruses and bacteria. Sometimes older bodies even fail to detect invading pathogens. Because of this, our ageing population is particularly at risk when it comes to catching diseases and every precaution needs to be taken to avoid the spreading of viruses and germs in aged care facilities.
Whenever there is a viral outbreak on the horizon, aged care staff should be made aware of the issue so that they can take appropriate action. For example, currently New South Wales is in its peak season for viral gastroenteritis with the illness spreading voraciously throughout the community.
The two viruses responsible for gastroenteritis are rotavirus and norovirus, the former being very common in babies and children. Therefore, children that have been infected by the virus, or adults who have had exposure to infected children, should stay away from all aged care facilities. The virus can be contagious for up to three days after the spell of vomiting or diarrhoea has ceased.
The norovirus also proves to be particularly testing because it requires only a small amount of the virus for transmission, and those infected excrete a lot of virus particles – widespread viral contamination can easily occur.
Influenza and the elderly
Influenza is also a critical issue amongst the elderly, as once again they are more susceptible to the virus and its complications. The best method of influenza prevention is annual immunisation, providing the individual is not immunocompromised. However, as a considerable percentage of elderly people are not well enough to be immunised, it is essential for those who are well enough do get immunised. In particular, all aged care workers should be immunised to reduce the risk of occurrences and transmission in aged care facilities.
During flu season, the New South Wales Health Department advised that the best preventative measure would be to keep visits to aged care centres to a minimum. Although this is a little unfortunate, given the resulting decline in social interaction, the risks associated with of a vulnerable senior person contracting the flu far outweighs the benefits of social interaction in flu season.
Practising regular hygiene
Thorough, regular hygiene practice is always recommended for infection control. These practices include:
- Routine environmental cleaning of services, floors, walls, telephones, door handles, bathroom taps, light buttons, tables, etc
- Safe use of disposable sharps
- Safe handling of all body fluids, bloods and excretions
- Using appropriate protective equipment when required
- Regular, thorough hand washing
- Cough etiquette
- Attention to hygiene during food preparation
- Ensuring that any workers, particularly in food preparation are away from work while suffering or recovering from gastroenteritis
Hand hygiene is exceedingly important for infection control. Hand Hygiene Australia reference five important tips on hand hygiene. The following notes are from their website:
Five Moments for Hand Hygiene
- Before touching a patient/client
- Before a procedure
- After a procedure or body fluid exposure risk
- After touching a patient
- After touching a patient’s surrounding
When washing hands, it is essential that you use water and soap or a soap solution. Effective handwashing does not require special antimicrobial solutions. Although handwashing is extremely effective in reducing micro-organisms on the hands, hand hygiene amongst healthcare workers, universally, is often compromised. This is due to various issues, such as stressful workloads and a lack of time for proper hand washing, a lack of nearby sinks to wash hands, skin irritation issues and the issue of hands not ‘appearing’ to be dirty, despite them possibly carrying invisible micro-organisms.
We’re all vulnerable to viruses and infections, but some of us more susceptible than others. When it comes to the ageing demographic, we must remember that their immune systems are more vulnerable than the rest of the population. Health and hygiene, where it is controllable is our responsibility.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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