As you may be aware, Covid-19 (also known as Coronavirus) has become a global problem. Although the scale of the virus at this stage is still fairly small, we should be aware of infection control. The virus appears to be spreading at a substantial rate, so taking measures where we can is recommended. This article will discuss what we know about the virus so far and how infection control in hospitals, healthcare and home environments is key to prevent spreading it. There isn’t much information about Coronavirus available at the moment but what we do know is that it can spread rapidly, so knowing how to prevent this where possible is of great importance.
Coronavirus: What we know so far
Currently, Coronavirus has been classified as an international health emergency by the World Health Organization. They recently raised the public risk from “low” to “moderate”, so understanding the need for infection control is paramount in preventing the number of cases in the UK from rising. Although as a whole, the UK’s risk is fairly low and based around those travelling to and from countries where the number of cases of coronavirus is higher, we must put measures in place that prevent infection. In Wuhan, where the number of coronavirus cases is just under 80,000 (as of 22nd February 2020), the Chinese government commissioned the building of a new hospital specifically for treating those with the virus. This hospital was constructed in just 12 days, with urgency being at the forefront of the build.
How the virus spreads
The Covid-19 virus is highly contagious and is spread through various means. Person-to-person spread is likely to be the most common way for the virus to spread on larger scales. For the virus to spread this way, individuals only need to be within 6 feet of each other. Coughing and sneezing within this distance can mean that the infected individual passes on the virus to others through respiratory droplets that can either land on the mouths or noses or be inhaled into the lungs. As with the spread of the virus from person to person, coughing and sneezing can infect surfaces and objects. This isn’t thought to be the main way that the virus is spread, however, but it does mean that surfaces need to be kept clean and disinfected.
When are individuals thought to be the most contagious?
It is thought that those with the virus are at their most contagious when they are experiencing the worst symptoms. However, some people may be carrying the virus and be contagious before symptoms take hold. Reports have suggested that this strain of the virus may be spread in this way, but there is still a lot to learn about how contagious it is. So far, the spread of the virus appears to be quicker in China than in other countries.
Travellers returning from highly affected areas
If you have recently travelled to the UK from China, Thailand or Japan and are experiencing any symptoms associated with the virus then it is advisable to stay indoors and phone NHS 111. This also applies to anyone that has a cough, fever, shortness of breath or other associated symptoms that has travelled between other countries in the last 14 days. These countries include Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Macau.
How is the UK government helping to control the virus?
Monitoring of flights from these areas is being conducted and passengers that are experiencing any symptoms are told how to report these when flying, or when arriving at or leaving the airport. UK nationals currently residing in China have been advised to leave China if possible and return to the UK where the threat is lower-risk. This does mean, however, that carriers of the virus who are not yet symptomatic may spread the virus on their return to the UK. This is why it is paramount that we take infection control seriously, as although the risk is low, there are still possibilities for infection.
Which environments are the most vulnerable?
In the UK we need to take precautions when dealing with individuals in certain settings. The most important places that we need to be aware of infection control and preventing the spread of coronavirus is in hospitals and care homes. In environments where many people share facilities, the opportunities for infections and viruses to spread are higher. Those in the healthcare sector should be educated in infection control, this means employers should take the responsibility for training workers in these environments accordingly. Also, they should ensure that provisions are in place to ensure workers can safely treat patients without the risk of infection and that areas in the building are clean and disinfected.
How individuals can help
Although it is ultimately down to employers in the healthcare and social care sector to ensure that their staff can keep areas free of infection, there are ways that we as individuals can help stop the spread. This means making sure that you cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and immediately dispose of this. This also means taking handwashing seriously and ensuring that you wash your hands with soap and water regularly or use sanitiser gel when it is available. Also, for those that are in environments where the virus can easily spread, avoiding any contact with anyone unwell is recommended.
Because of the way that the virus is spread, the course of action is to isolate yourself if you believe that you have it. This means staying away from others for up to 14 days by not going to work or school, or visiting any other public areas, this includes using any public transport or taxis. You should stay at home and have others bring provisions to you when necessary. In these instances, you should also use disposables such as gloves and facemasks where necessary, especially if you have visitors. Using disposable bed linen is also a good way of preventing the spread and even disposable curtains and blinds.
How businesses and employers can help
As a business or employer, you have a responsibility to keep your staff and patients safe. This means following strict procedures to ensure that the threat of coronavirus to your premises stays low. If you’re in the health or social care sector, your employees should already have undertaken some infection control training in the past. If they haven’t, or you believe that your workforce may need a refresher then you should implement this. Often, infection is very much preventable if individuals know the measures that they need to take. You should also ensure that any employee that has travelled to the highly affected areas recently has given enough time for symptoms of coronavirus to surface after their trip before coming back to work.
Cleaning is a key part of infection control, so you should ensure that your workforce has access to the correct cleaning chemicals that kill bacteria and germs. Cleaning should be a routine part of each day and this may mean employing professional cleaners to clean the premises in the morning and evening. This alone isn’t enough, however; all employees must also follow the correct procedures throughout the day which may include cleaning as they go, using PPE and colour co-ordinated cloths, mops or other cleaning accessories to prevent the spread of infection.
If your premises houses several people such as service users or patients, then you should consider using disposables to prevent spread and contamination. This doesn’t only mean using facemasks, gloves and paper towels, but also other disposable items such as curtains, blinds and bed linen. Using these will mean that you can be sure that spread isn’t occurring through the use of fibrous objects. They can be destroyed and replaced quickly and efficiently, meaning that there is less chance for the virus to hang around and be spread. Disposable curtains and blinds also serve the purpose of providing privacy to patients and can be easily destroyed to prevent spread. Many people fail to consider that blinds and curtains can be perfect breeding grounds for bacteria, and in a hospital or care home setting, they are likely touched by many individuals each day.
Although at present, the threat of high levels of coronavirus cases in the UK is fairly low, we do need to make sure that we’re doing all we can as a nation to prevent a serious outbreak. With the government recommending that UK nationals come home from areas where the virus is heavily spread, there is an additional threat. It is our responsibility as individuals and employers to do our bit in controlling the spread of the virus and stopping it becoming as heavily spread as it is in other countries and areas such as Wuhan. Educating ourselves and our workers around the importance of infection control is a key part of this, as is making sure that measures are in place to make infection control as simple as possible. Disposable items such as curtains, blinds, bedding, as well as standard forms of PPE can give us a headstart against the virus.
Wuhan’s quickly built hospital was based around containing the virus and quarantining those that had it. Although the scale of the virus isn’t anywhere close to this in the UK, we need to take Wuhan’s approach and identify the source of the problem and prevent it from getting worse. This can only be done by good practice and an educated approach towards health, safety and infection control.
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