Why it’s essential to prevent cross contamination in medical settings

Preventing cross-contamination in medical settings is crucial to ensuring patient safety and maintaining a sterile environment. Infection sources such as saliva, blood and germs from countertops and surfaces are all present in settings such as dental surgeries, tattoo shops and podiatry clinics – it is imperative that proper hygiene processes are in place to ensure these are not transmitted between individuals and spread disease.

Common health conditions caused by infection sources include-

  • Saliva borne diseases can include Rhinovirus, Hepatitis B & C, Strep bacteria, Type 1 Herpes and Mononucleosis
  • Blood borne diseases can include HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
  • Germs that live on surfaces can include the flu virus, Coronavirus, E.Coli and salmonella.

All of these, and more besides, can cause very nasty health problems in even the healthiest individual, so taking steps to prevent spread is extremely important.

How can we reduce the spread of disease and germs?

There are some simple steps that we can all take to reduce the spread of disease and germs

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is very important, not just in medical settings but all areas when humans live or work together and touch the same surfaces. It has been proven that hand washing for 40 seconds helps to stop people from contracting infections that live on surfaces and spreading them.

Resource- NHS- How to Wash Your Hands

  • Frequent Hand Washing- healthcare workers should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after patient contact, after touching potentially contaminated surfaces, and before performing any sterile procedures.
  • All visitors to a healthcare facility should also be encouraged to wash their hands upon entering and exiting.
  • Hand Sanitisers- use alcohol-based hand sanitisers when soap and water are not available. Please note that using a hand sanitiser is not a replacement for proper washing with an antibacterial soap and hot water.

Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The use of PPE is well known to reduce the risk of spreading infection and germs between humans, especially when working in close contact.

Common PPE items include-

  • Gloves – which should be changed between each patient and after procedures.
  • Gowns - these protect the skin and clothing from cross contamination.
  • Masks and Respirators - there are different types, for example surgical masks for standard procedures and N95 respirators which achieve a very close facial fit to protect against airborne particles.
  • Googles or glasses – these help  when there is a risk of splashes or spray to the eyes.

Thorough Cleaning Practices

Routine cleaning is always essential in all environments, and then extra practices to various areas or if spills happen.

  • Routine Cleaning - regularly clean and disinfect all surfaces and equipment in patient care areas. This helps to reduce the amount of dirt and germs in general.
  • High-Touch Surfaces - pay extra attention to high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, rails, and medical equipment.
  • Cleaning up Spills - immediately clean and disinfect any spills of blood or body fluids, using approved cleaning products to kill disease and germs.

Sterilisation and Disinfection

Sterilising and disinfecting limits cross contamination by removing viable organisms that may spread disease, including spores. This applies to instruments, equipment, surfaces, clothing and storage areas.

  • Instrument and Equipment Sterilisation – all reusable items of equipment and instruments must be sterilised and disinfected as much as possible – a lot of instruments, clothing and some equipment can be sterilised in an autoclave. This is highly effective, due to temperatures reaching over 100°C inside the autoclave chamber.
  • Single-Use Items – if you don’t use reusable items, then ensure disposable items are properly disposed of after use.
  • Proper Storage – sterilised reusable instruments, equipment and clothing/PPE should be stored in a manner that maintains their sterility until the next time they are required.
  • Storage areas – these should also be kept clean and disinfected to ensure optimum hygiene and cleanliness of the items within.

Waste Management Procedures

All waste, medical and otherwise, should be disposed of correctly, following the right protocols for the type of waste to ensure adherence to regulations governing the medical sector. This may include the use of sharps bins, using the proper grade of disinfection solutions, and separating different types of waste.

  • Disposal Procedures – All waste should be disposed of safely, including sharps, contaminated materials, and biohazardous waste (waste that contains bodily fluids such as blood or faeces).
  • Segregation- Segregate waste to prevent cross-contamination.

Implementing rigorous infection control and cleaning procedures requires a comprehensive approach to staff training, management and control. It’s important that all personnel are aware of the importance of sticking to procedures, and have access to the rules to follow at all times.