Reasonable Precautions Help Prevent Spread of Disease

Posted by Karen O’Hara, Director, Marketing and Communications

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The rapidly evolving Ebola outbreak has heightened awareness (fear) of infectious diseases.

Even when exposure risk is minimal, it’s always a good idea to take reasonable precautions to help prevent the spread of disease in the workplace, at home and in the community at large.

3 Easy Precautions

Hand hygiene: Frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a waterless, alcohol-based hand sanitizer has long been considered one of the most effective ways to prevent illness.

Vaccination: When a certain percentage of the population is immunized against a contagious disease (like the flu), everyone benefits from herd or community immunity, including those who are not candidates for immunization. (In the U.S., the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently launched clinical trials on an Ebola vaccine.)

Preventable diseases that seem to have largely been eradicated re-emerge when vaccination rates drop. For example, in California where I live, public health officials have declared a pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic linked in part to parents declining to vaccinate their children. Reseachers’ are also looking into possible declines in vaccine potency. For vaccination recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pertussis website.

Respiratory hygiene: This includes:

  • Covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and promptly disposing of soiled tissues
  • Keeping a distance of at least 3 feet from someone with symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, fever or vomiting
  • Wearing surgical masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, in certain workplaces (e.g., health care, hazardous waste cleanup and disposal, emergency response), PPE such as gloves, face pieces, respirators and body suits are used to prevent the spread of infection. (In response to Ebola, the CDC recently updated its guidance for health care worker PPE.)

Additional recommended practices include:

  • Disinfecting surfaces such as countertops, phones and door handles
  • Staying home from work when ill
  • Training, practice and observation related to donning and doffing PPE

Universal Precautions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) requires covered employers and their employees to observe universal precautions to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). In addition to hand hygiene and respiratory protection, universal precautions include:

  • Flushing mucous membranes immediately after contact with blood or OPIM or PPE removal
  • Not eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, or handling contact lenses in areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure to blood or OPIM
  • Placing all intact needles and sharp objects in puncture-resistant, labeled, leak-proof containers
  • Disposing any potentially contaminated waste in sealable bio-hazardous waste bags and containers

Standard Precautions

Standard precautions are based on the principle that all blood, body fluids, secretions and excretions (except sweat), non-intact skin and mucous membranes may contain transmissible infectious agents. Similar to universal precautions, standard precautions include hand hygiene, gloves, gown, mask, eye protection, total face shield and safe injection practices.

Gloves should be worn whenever there is the likelihood of contact with blood, non-intact skin, mucous membranes or OPIM, and when handling or touching contaminated items or surfaces. Disposable gloves and mouthpieces should not be washed or decontaminated for reuse.

Some of these measures may be perceived as an over-abundance of caution. However, if everyone does their part to help prevent the spread of disease, personal well-being, work and school absence rolls, over-burdened health care facilities, and cost-benefit analyses should reflect favorable results.

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