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Infections are diseases caused by infectious agents (known collectively as pathogens) such as viruses, bacteria or fungi. Colds and flus are familiar infections that all of you have experienced at some point in your lives. New infections begin when pathogens leave the body of their host (the infected individual in which the pathogens are multiplying) and enter a new one.
The more we are exposed to each other, the more likely these infections are transmitted. If you work in a hospital, a care centre or a doctor’s office, it is essential to understand infection control and to apply a preventive approach in your daily tasks to protect your patients and yourself from the risks of contamination.
They are distinguished from other illnesses and disorders because they can be transmitted from someone who is ill to other individuals who then develop the same infections and can thus pass it on. Transmission of pathogens can occur directly between people, or indirectly in the air, water or food, via other animals to humans, or from sources in the environment.
As health professionals, you are particularly concerned with two transmission routes for infection: direct and indirect person-to-person transmission. Indeed, you have a greater risk of becoming infected and of infecting others when you are around sick people or in areas susceptible to germs.
Direct person-to-person transmission of an infection occurs when the infection can be passed on to the next host via physical contact. Types of direct contact include:
Touch, for instance a handshake, pathogens may enter the new host through a cut or be transferred from hand to mouth.
Exchange of body fluids, in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) for example, pathogens can be transmitted to the infected individual’s partner during unprotected sex,
Mother-to-child transmission happens when pathogens pass from mother to baby in the uterus, during childbirth, or via breastfeeding.
Indirect person-to-person transmission does not require physical contact and occurs when the original host spreads pathogens into the air, water, food or via a contaminated object (for example a door handle, light switch), which then infect someone else. Some common types of infections include:
Airborne infections, transmitted through the air via attachment to dust or tiny respiratory droplets (when coughing or sneezing) and containing millions of bacteria or viruses that may be inhaled by someone else. These may settle on surfaces contaminating utensils, clothing or food, which are then touched or consumed by someone else.
Waterborne infections, transmitted when infected urine and faeces from humans or animals washes into lakes and streams, where the pathogens multiply and reinfect people when they drink or bathe in contaminated water. They are particularly common in parts of the world where large numbers of people don’t have access to clean drinking water or sanitation.
Faecal-oral infections, spread when pathogens from solid waste or excrement enter the mouth and multiply in the gut. Transmission occurs when unclean hands, dirty utensils or food contaminated by faeces enters the mouth.
Bloodborne infections, spread via shared needles and syringes, for example when used among people who inject drugs. Medical procedures such as blood transfusions can also transmit pathogens; thousands of infections occurred from HIV-contaminated blood before the transmission of HIV was understood.
It is essential to adopt proper hand hygiene practices and proper sterilisation techniques to keep environments free of germs, as well as to wear protective clothing after every instance of patient contact as you could pick up an infection that the next patient might acquire. These precautionary actions are instrumental in preventing transmission and fighting health care associated infections (HCAIs). It is even more important as infectious periods do not necessarily coincide with disease signs and symptoms. Indeed, the time period during which infected hosts are able to transmit their infection to another host can start before the appearance of any rashes, spots, or sensations in the body like dizziness or nausea.
Various infection transmission risks increase the likelihood that a disease will develop. These risks include poor infrastructure, shortage of equipment, lack of access to clean water and overcrowding. Another important factor involves the insufficient knowledge of health workers who did not undertake adequate infection control training. Infection and prevention control (IPC) protocols have been instrumental in controlling infectious disease and saving lives, and are a shared responsibility of all health professionals. On our online infection control course for nurses and healthcare workers, you will learn to understand and apply infection prevention and control and patient safety principles in health care settings.
Infectious diseases are a significant cause of both death and sickness and can also cause permanent paralysis and disability. They can have devastating economic and social impacts as becoming ill will incur costs directly via healthcare and costs associated with lost wages and productivity at work.
As health workers, you have the duty to look after the health and be mindful of sick humans. If you are working in nursing, healthcare or social care, our online infection control course is designed to support you as a professional. Upon completion, you will gain Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points and a recognised certification.
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