Becoming Preventionists

Infection Prevention and Control is not a new specialty but it is one that has gained attention locally, nationally and globally, in light of the emergence and re-emergence of childhood diseases, such as measles and pertussis and the Pandemic H1N1 Influenza outbreaks, not to mention Ebola. Nurses are educated to be familiar with basic Infection Control principles whether they work in acute care settings, long-term care, home health, clinics or physician’s offices.

The term Infection Control has recently been changed to Infection Prevention and Control with an emphasis on prevention. It follows that nurses and other medical professionals who work closely within the specialty, are now referred to as Infection Preventionists. After all, preventing healthcare associated infections should be the primary concern. Controlling them implies there is already a problem.

Infection Prevention and Control in Skilled Nursing, Long-term and Long-term Acute Care begins with developing a strong Infection Prevention and Control program designed to prevent transmission of infection from resident to staff, staff to patient and patient to patient. In Long-term Care the job typically, but not always, falls to the Staff Developer. Often times there is a sudden vacancy, for whatever reason, and an urgent assignment is made to a nurse who may have no measurable experience in the specialty. Before the appointee begins to feel overwhelmed, it is very important that the Infection Preventionist have the support of physicians, nursing, administration and ancillary services.

To those nurses who find themselves feeling unprepared for the new role suddenly thrust upon them, please consider becoming a member of our National Professional Association, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). There you will find classes, seminars, videos, podcasts, manuals, books, magazines and information regarding certification in Infection Control. A visit to the website is well worthwhile. 



Standard Precautions First

Standard Precautions First

The term Standard Precautions speaks for itself. These are basic precautions taken to reduce the possibility of coming in contact with infectious body fluids including blood, secretions, excretions, non-intact skin and mucous membranes. In other words, anything that is warm and wet, except for sweat.

Standard Precautions include hand washing, using alcohol hand sanitizers when there are no visible signs of soiling, and barriers such as gloves, gowns, masks and goggles, depending on the situation. Use Standard Precautions all the time with every patient. Often the term just isn’t understood and is overlooked, instead healthcare workers scramble to determine “What kind of precautions the patient is on.” Barriers are included as part of Standard Precautions, leaving the use of them to be determined by assessing the patient situation. It would make sense to use gloves if there is a possibility of soiling your hands, gowns and goggles if splashing or contact with bodily fluids is anticipated. 

When you think of Standard Precautions, think insurance policy. Why do we use Standard Precautions? Precaution is the key word here. We use precautions in advance of coming upon a situation that might lead to an undesired outcome, one leading to possible transmission of infectious organisms from patient to patient, patient to healthcare worker and what of the visitors? Let us not overlook role of the visitors in the mix.  

We can’t always know who among our patients, employees, physicians, or visitors, may be carrying an infectious or potentially infectious organism. It’s safe to say not only do we not always know, we usually do not know.  So, in order to avoid an unwanted outcome, such as the spread of infectious disease, we use barriers such as gloves, gowns and masks, when indicated. This means we need to rely on our own assessment of a situation when it comes to caring for patients who have not yet been diagnosed with any particular infectious organism. 

Example: A patient has been coughing; do any of us want to inhale droplets sprayed into the air by a coughing or sneezing person? Don’t we usually avoid those situations anyway? So before any tests are completed, before a particular organism is cultured, identified and reported, put a mask on yourself and one on your patient if they are leaving the room.  That’s Standard Precautions.  

Example: A patient has complained of sudden upset stomach and diarrhea. Do any of us want to touch anyone’s feces? Do we want to touch the same places the person with the diarrhea has touched?  So before any tests, cultures and diagnoses are made, put on gloves and even a gown if there is a chance your clothes could become contaminated. That’s Standard Precautions.

Example: A newly admitted patient complains of intense itching, especially bothersome at night. Before you think Scabies, before skin scrapings and identification of mites occurs, put on gloves before touching the patient. That’s Standard Precautions.

Let’s not forget. Patients, just like you and me, touch their bodies, their noses, mouths and their skin. Hopefully we all wash our hands, but we don’t know for sure. We all live in a unique cloud of our own organisms and touch things in the environment over and over again, leaving our own unique brand of micro-organisms behind us. See Microbiome

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we don’t see what is on our hands, our skin or in the environment. When we’re distracted we forget, overlook or postpone doing what we know is the right thing to do; after all, we are very busy. But, if we could actually see the organisms on our hands, our patient’s hands and the environment we might never stop washing, cleaning and sanitizing. At the very least, using Standard Precautions all of the time dilutes the potential number of organisms we transmit to one another. 

To be sure: Every time you enter a patient’s room, sanitize your hands. Every time you care for a patient, and go to another patient, sanitize your hands.  Every time you leave a patient’s room sanitize your hands. That’s Standard Precautions.



Breaking The Chain

Thinking in terms of interrupting the transmission of infectious agents is known as Breaking the Chain of Infection.

This term uses a metaphor to create a visual interpretation; each link depends on the last and the next, in order to continue. Break one link and there is no longer a connection. An example might be:

  • The 1st   link in the chain is the causative agent or pathogen, let’s use MRSA
  • The 2nd link is the reservoir or the house the pathogen lives in. In this case it’s living in the nares (nose) of a nurse but not causing her any
    clinical signs of infection. She is not even aware she has MRSA organisms in her nasal passages. 
  • The 3rd link is the portal of exit (the nurse rubs her nose, now the pathogen is on her hands). 
  • The 4th link is the mode of transmission or the route the organisms use to travel to their newest destination; in this case, the nurse’s unwashed hands. 
  • The 5th link is the portal of entry or the skin of the potential host, her patient. 
  • The 6th link is the susceptible host, the patient; susceptible is the keyword. If the patient has an altered immune system, and chronically ill people do, the organism stands a very good chance of gaining entrance and setting up shop at
    the first opportunity. 

So let’s see what happens. The nurse did not take the time to wash her hands before visiting her patient and so she transmits the MRSA to her patient’s skin while taking her blood pressure. 

The patient is a susceptible host because her immune status is impaired by her chronic medical conditions and diabetes. The patient’s arm itches, she scratches it and causes a small break in the integrity of her skin; the MRSA she picked up from the nurse gains entrance (portal of entry) and the patient develops an MRSA wound infection. 

Looking back we can see any one of the links in the chain of infection could easily have been broken, beginning with the nurse always washing her hands or using an alcohol sanitizer before and after visiting each patient.

The concept of breaking the chain of infection is not limited to long-term care; it can and should be used to prevent transmission of micro-organisms in all healthcare facilities and in the community as well. If we could see the multitude of organisms that are living on our hands and in our immediate environment, we would probably never stop washing our hands.



Infection Prevention and Control Resources

I am re-posting a list of Infection Prevention and Control resources I believe are basic to I.C. Professionals working in California. I live and work in Southern California; for these reasons, the resources I use for my contributions to The Preventionist come mainly from:

  • The California Department of Public Health Infection Control Guidelines
  • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • And the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), our national, professional Infection Control Association.

These resources base their guidelines and recommendations on scientifically gathered, evidence based and peer reviewed information. Infection Control Nurses living in other states should rely on their individual State and County Infection Control Guidelines to be compliant.

Here are some Infection Control links you may find useful in California and nationally as well:



Multi-drug Resistant Organisms

The CDC defines Multidrug-resistant Organisms (MDRO’s) as microorganisms that have developed resistance to multiple antimicrobial drugs; two MDRO’s we are most familiar with in Long-term Care are MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) and VRE (Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus). Patients, healthcare workers and visitors are potential sources of MDRO’s. They may be colonized, infected, and unknowingly transmitting resistant organisms to one another.

Colonization is defined as the presence of an organism in or on the body but with no clinical signs and symptoms of infection. Infection is defined as tissue invasion by a microorganism accompanied by positive clinical signs and symptoms.

Since health care workers, patients and family alike, could potentially be unaware they are colonized with Multi-Drug Resistant Organisms, it follows they could easily be transmitted from one person to another. Inadequate hand hygiene is the root cause for transmission of pathogens in Long-Term Care and in all other health care settings as well. Health care workers, patients and visitors must do all they can to interrupt the cycle of transmission by consciously and conscientiously washing their hands. 

Multi-drug Resistant organisms are not more virulent than their non-resistant predecessors, but they may be more difficult to treat because they are resistant to many classes of antimicrobials.  Reducing exposure to MDRO’s is accomplished by using the same  approach to preventing transmission of all pathogens found in health care facilities.  

  • Use Standard Precautions at all times and Transmission Based Precautions for known or suspected infections. Standard Precautions
  • Always practice responsible Hand Hygiene
  • Use optimum Room Placement of patients with known infections;  co-hort those with like infectious organisms.  
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) use gloves, gowns and masks appropriately. Give frequent demonstrations on the correct procedures for donning, removing and disposing of PPE,  followed by staff return demonstrations. Donning and Removing PPE

Assess patients for group activities. In general, if a patient’s wounds are covered and contained, if they are not exhibiting signs and symptoms of infection, and if they are able to demonstrate responsible hygiene practices, it is usually acceptable for them to leave their room. Check the Policies & Procedures for your facility. Conversely, if wounds cannot be covered and drainage contained, if the patient is confused or unable to engage in good hygiene practices, if they demonstrate clinical signs of infection such as fever, active vomiting/diarrhea or if they are coughing productively, they should remain in their rooms until their signs and symptoms have subsided. Again, review and educate your staff to your facility Policy & Procedures, which should be updated as needed for federal, state and local Standards of Care and Best Practice Guidelines.

C. Difficile

C. Difficile Infection (CDI); what it is, how it is transmitted and what can be done to prevent its spread.

Clostridium Difficile is an Antibiotic- Associated Diarrhea Disease (AAD) found in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care settings subsequent to antibiotic treatment.  It is a tough little anaerobic, gram-positive, spore forming bacillus that produces two exotoxins which attack  the mucosal lining of the colon, usually subsequent to antibiotic usage; the action  neutralizes the normal flora of the bowel, allowing for C. Dif proliferation.

The clinical signs and symptoms of C. Difficile are abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, nausea and fever. The bacillus is shed in the feces and transmission is by oral ingestion. How does this occur? Contamination of the environment by an infected patient allows for transmission from feces to hands, to surfaces, and then to others, when adequate precautions are not followed.

C. Difficile spores are capable of living in the environment for days, weeks and even months.  Severe cases of C. Difficile carry the potential for colon perforation, mega-colon, sepsis and even death.

Treatment of C. Difficile may consist of physician ordered Vancomycin and/or Flagyl but about 23 percent of patients recover within a few days if the offending antibiotics have been discontinued. Of special note: The CDC does not recommend re-culturing of patients who have completed treatment or have resolved on their own and remain asymptomatic because they may be colonized.   

  • Always use Standard precautions for all patients in Long-term Care and use Transmission Based Precautions for known or suspected infections. With symptomatic C. Difficile   patients with watery diarrhea may be placed on contact precautions until asymptomatic, which means no further diarrhea.
  • The CDC recommendations for hand hygiene when caring for patients with C. Difficile consist of hand washing; alcohol sanitizers are not effective against C. Difficile spores. Hand washing does not kill the spores but the friction with soap and running water allows for them to be washed down the drain.
  • Environmental cleaning consists of Hypochlorite/bleach solutions with careful attention to protocols for contact time. Information can be found in the CDC’S Frequently Asked Questions about C. Difficile for professionals: CDC/C.Dif / Hand Hygiene and C. Dif

Reference picture: CDC PHIL.

What are OSHA and The CDC?

What is OSHA?

OSHA is the acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the Federal Government created by Congress in 1970 under The Department of Labor. OSHA mandates  compliance with standards set for employee safety in the workplace. In 1991 OSHA developed the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to protect workers from the risk associated with sharps injuries, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis B & C. Congress developed The Needle stick Safety and Prevention Act in 2000 and OSHA revised the Standard to include the modifications in 2001.

OSHA developed Universal Precautions to protect health care workers from coming in contact with all potentially infected blood and body fluids during patient care. This includes hand washing and the use of bariers such as gloves, gowns and masks when indicated.   

What is the CDC?

CDC is the acronym for the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, an agency of the Federal Government under the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC is concerned with Public Health, safety and the prevention and control of disease.

Based on the fact that we cannot know a patient’s status with certainty, The CDC recommends Standard Precautions for the care of all patients no matter their diagnosis.

Standard Precautions include the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to provide a barrier to blood and body fluids. PPE consists of gloves, gowns, masks.

Hand washing and alcohol hand sanitizers are used appropriately before and after contact with each patient, before and after donning gloves, passing medications, using the restroom, eating, inserting contacts or applying makeup.  

Transmission Based Precautions are recommended to provide additional precautions when it is known or suspected a patient is infected or colonized with a significant pathogen. These precautions are based on the pathogen and their mode of transmission.

They include:

Airborne Precautions for pathogens that travel through small particles in the air such as  Tuberculosis. Airborne Precautions usually require the use of N-95 respirators and negative pressure rooms for patient care, options not normally available in Long-term Care.   

Droplet Precautions are indicated for pathogens traveling on large droplet’s propelled in the air through respiratory secretions while sneezing, coughing or talking. These droplets travel about 3 feet; if it is expected the worker will come within 3 feet of the patient  they wear a mask. If the patient is transported from the room, they wear a mask. Examples of droplet isolation include the influenza viruses, Pneumonias, and Meningitis. (See Appendix A of The CDC Guidelines for Isolation Precautions 2007 for a complete list.

Contact Precautions are used for infectious pathogens that are transmitted from skin to skin and by contact with a contaminated environment. Examples are C. Difficile, Noro Viruses, MRSA, and VRE. 


Adult Vaccine Schedule

Every year at this time, we as Infection Preventionist, preach the importance of getting the Influenza Vaccine, but what of the other adult vaccines? Is your staff compliant? Do you keep track of your vaccinations? Are you up to date with your own adult vaccines? What about these:

  • Influenza (Flu) every year
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Td/Tdap)
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)
  • HPV Vaccine for Women
  • HPV Vaccine for Men
  • Zoster (Shingles)
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • Pneumococcal (pneumonia)
  • Meningococcal
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B

Here are some great links to the CDC Adult Vaccine Schedules

CDC Adult Vaccines

Adult Vaccine Schedule

Picture courtesy of CDC:PHIL


Viral Gastroenteritis in Long-term Care

It’s that time of year when viral gastroenteritis makes itself known in the community and in Long-term Care.  (See  CDC: Norovirus ) Here is a review of a common type of situation found in Long-term Care

You, the DSD, come on duty Monday morning and are told Sunday night three residents had several episodes of vomiting followed by diarrhea. A Nursing Assistant went home with the same symptoms.  What should you do with this information?

  • Consider the potential for a Norovirus- associated Gastroenteritis outbreak.
  • Notify DON, Medical Director, resident’s Physicians, Administration and staff; the Medical Director, DON or Administrator will report to the local County Health Department and Licensing. An outbreak exists when there is an increase in the expected baseline level of cases in a facility; a sudden occurrence of more than the usual  expected cases is the definition of outbreak; all outbreaks are reportable.    
  • Place symptomatic patients on contact isolation and stop social activities until symptom free for 48 hours. Use additional barriers, such as gowns and masks while the patient is symptomatic.  Why masks? Because the virus may become aerosolized while the patient is vomiting, transmitting the virus to anyone in close proximity.   
  • Assess all patients for similar signs and symptoms. Develop line listings and use outbreak surveillance forms for surveillance and tracking purposes; use separate tracking forms for residents and employees.
  • Meet with all staff and review the signs and symptoms of noroviruses; per the CDC, the incubation period is 12-48 hours; duration 24-60 hrs and 30 % of affected patients may be asymptomatic. Transmission is by direct person to person contact, the oral/fecal route, or contamination of water or food by infected persons and as mentioned above, the virus may become aerosolized when patients are vomiting. 
  • Re-enforce strict hand washing guidelines and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Environmental Disinfection; the CDC recommends Chlorine Bleach solutions or EPA approved disinfection products.  (
  • Instruct visitors on precautions and limit visitations if necessary.
  • Document signs and symptoms, notification of physicians and all new orders.  
  • Maintain and hold staff rotations until outbreak is resolved. Continue monitoring cases until there are no further signs and symptoms consistent with Norovirus-associated Gastroenteritis cases in your building.  

Resource: Noroviruses

Mantoux Skin Testing in Long-term Care

There are always questions about PPD conversions and there have been several posts regarding the subject, two just recently (see February 22 nd  and 16 th). Remember to follow the Infection Control Guidelines as outlined by your own State Department of Public Health.

In California, the CDPH (California Department of Public Health) outlines very explicit Guidelines for both Healthcare Workers and Residents in Long-term Care facilities. When a facility has concerns or is unsure of how to proceed in certain situations, they call the TB Control Nurse at the local, County Health Department.

The CDC offers a lot of information on the subject including wall charts, Educational DVD’s on the subject of administering and interpreting the PPD, brochures, handouts and even rulers. I have placed links to all of these resources in previous blogs but will do so again.

CDC: TB Topics Page

CDC: Ordering the CDC Mantoux PPD Skin Test Video  (scroll down ordering sheet to locate video)

CDC: Diagnosis of Latent TB

CDC: Newer treatment for Latent TB

CDC: TB Fact sheets

CDC: Mantoux Tuberculin Skin Test Wall Chart

CDC: Mantoux test administration and interpretation

Reference: CDC Public Health Image Library (March 23, 2012).