The current epidemic in West Africa highlights the need for infection control on both global and local levels. While the kind of pathogens your medical staff is facing on a day to day basis may not be as virulent as that of Ebola, it is still crucial to implement stringent infection control measures to stop the spread of both less and highly contagious diseases. These should be practiced on top of basic infection control practices such as washing hands, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of medical waste using biohazard containment materials. Health institutions everywhere can learn lessons from the examples of American hospitals who had battled Ebola using the following procedures and won.
Install proper isolation units
Highly equipped hospitals have isolation units for patients with acute infections significantly separated from where patients with low-level infections are cared for. This is particularly critical especially if the disease is airborne; in fact, physical isolation is often the standard. People coming in and going out of this isolation unit should be made to go through a sticky floor mat. Another layer of protection should also be put in place to ensure that the spread of contagious airborne particles is minimized. The air pressure in the isolation unit should have a negative air pressure, wherein air flows out from the corridors and into the patient's room, after which the air is scrubbed thoroughly by a filter before the exhaust system expels it from the patient’s room.
Set up antiseptic ‘dunk tanks’
For pathogens that are transmitted by physical contact, their transmission is controlled by rigorous use of disinfectants. Surface cleaners using sprays and wipes make up the first layer of defense, with dunk tanks filled with germ-killing agent providing the second layer. While this works for smaller items, sterilization may be too much to handle with bigger machines such as X-ray units. In this case, it is important that the isolation unit should have their own diagnostic resources. This requires investment in space and personnel as well, but it’s investment that pays for itself more than just its dollar value.
Treat medical waste before disposing them
Virulent pathogens such as the Ebola virus can be found brimming in human waste. To deal with this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that before fecal matter is flushed out into the sanitary sewer system, it needs to go through disinfection first in the isolation unit. The waste should sit in the toilet filled with antiseptic long enough for the pathogens to be killed before it is being sent out of it via the usual channels. The same can be done to medical waste, such as gauzes, cottons and needles, before they are packed in biohazard bags and sharps container. While the latter provides physical barrier, disinfection of the medical waste itself provides the first layer of defense.
Train medical personnel
Training of health workers on how to properly manage and control contagious diseases cannot be overemphasized especially that they are exposed to other patients, and their own social circles, who they routinely deal with on a daily basis. This training should be based on the guidelines issued by the CDC and allied authorities, and should be implemented rigorously on-site. (Even then, certain lapses occur - and this is where several layers of protection come in - as in the case of two medical personnel in Texas who contracted Ebola after taking care of an Ebola-infected patient.) By practicing rigorous infection control program, both in their work environments and homes, health workers not only save themselves from infection, but also prevent the spread of those infections to people with compromised immune system.