Caring for a loved one at home can be a daunting task, getting help can be costly and worrisome – which is why we want to help. Everyone should be aware of infection control; not just when you are caring for someone but also when looking after yourself. Infections can spread very quickly and easily to others.
By knowing the facts and following our advice you can avoid infections, a serious yet avoidable cause of further illness.
What is infection?
The term infection refers to harmful microorganisms, which invade and multiply in the ideal environment that our bodies provide. This can be spread directly or indirectly.
Infection can result in serious immunological responses with earliest symptoms being fever, pain, discomfort, pallor, loss of mental clarity and noticeable physical symptoms at the site of infection (eg; respiratory distress if chest infection, burning of genitalia and odd smell if urinary tract ‘UTI’, visible pus oozing at a wound site etc).
This can lead to more severe multisystem illnesses such as respiratory, cardiovascular or brain infections, this can also lead to Sepsis, one of the biggest killers in the UK.
To get more technical, pathogenic organisms come in 3 forms:
- Bacteria e.g: streptococcus
- Viruses e.g: influenza
- Fungi e.g: athlete’s foot or thrush
When a body is under stress, already coping with other illnesses or is immunosuppressed for any reason, these pathogens become harder to fight off, and can become more serious.
What are the signs of infection?
- Raised Temperature
- Localised swelling
- Any Unusual Discharge
- Reduced appetite
- Feeling tired or weak
- Change in behaviour or condition
Where can infections be picked up?
Microorganisms can live naturally in the skin, urine, mouth and gut. They are transferred around the body and can leave via any bodily exit point, this can include:
- Urine/ faeces
- Sweat or skin oils
- Discharge from wounds etc
There are 4 main contact sources to be aware of:
- Humans: Contact of any kind which can transfer any microorganisms, even if this does not prove harmful to yourself, this can be incredibly harmful to the next person you come into contact with. To reduce the transfer of dangerous microorganisms, put aseptic hygiene practices into place, such as hand washing wearing gloves and using an apron, where possible, when caring for someone.
- Aminals: the coat of any animal (including insects) can be a carrier of many different potentially dangerous organisms. If you or your loved one own cats or dogs, be careful to keep them out of the way when performing hygiene tasks.
- The environment: Soil, water and even air are known to be hubs of organisms of all kinds.
- Objects: Door handles, toilets, emptying bins, handling money, dirty laundry, even gardening or touching anything that someone else has used or handled.
So, washing your hands thoroughly and often is key to preventing infection.
How can I protect myself and those I’m caring for, from infection?
When caring for someone you will need to be very careful to protect both yourself and them from infection. As a private family member, you will want to purchase gloves (they cost about 5p a glove) and possibly aprons. This may seem like overkill, however, reducing the possibility of infection really could save their life.
All personal protection equipment can be purchased very easily, so you don’t have to be a professional carer to access these products. You can have these supplies in the home, such as bags to dispose of waste products, gloves, aprons, wipes, soaps and masks etc.
Depending on the council in your area, they may provide yellow sacks for incontinence waste which will be picked up and be incinerated. If not, this waste should be put in bags, tied up and then put into the large bins.
Used incontinence pads often end up in landfill sites, which is not very environmentally friendly. So, you may want to try to persuade your council to supply the yellow bags by calling, emailing or writing a letter. Start by looking at your local council’s website.
Prevent infection by:
- Thoroughly wash your hands
- Tie your hair back and wear clean clothes, and keep jewellery to a minimum
- Use gloves and other protection: this acts as a barrier such as gloves, aprons, masks and coverings.
- Cover all cuts or abrasions on yourself and the person you’re caring for, as required.
- Ensure safe disposal of waste including used aprons and gloves.
- Maintain cautious and vigilant around any potential sharps corners and utensils.
- Destroy the organisms: Keep the house clean.
- Ensure safe handling of soiled linen and wash at 60C or above.
Is washing my hands enough?
The hands are the utmost cause of cross-contamination, by ensuring you maintain hand hygiene not only between coming into contact with people but also between tasks, you can prevent many potential risks to the health of yourself and the person you’re caring for.
Hand washing is such a simple task with a significant benefit to all! Be mindful when washing hands at work and ensure you follow correct procedure for best effect.
Correct handwashing should be performed as follows:
- Wet hands up to the wrist before applying hand wash/soap.
- Apply the cleanser/ soap.
- Smooth cleanser/soap evenly all over the hands, including the thumbs and in between the fingers, back of hands, under fingernails if possible and the wrists.
- Lather well, rubbing vigorously.
- Rinse off every trace of lather with warm running water.
- Dry thoroughly by air or with clean paper towel taking special care between the fingers.
- Use disposable paper towels where possible for drying hands
You must always wash your hands:
- Before preparing food
- Before and after meals
- After using the toilet
- After handling bedpans, commodes, toilets, incontinence products or soiled linen
- Before and after attending to any dressings
- Before and after providing care
- After handling animals
- After handling rubbish / rubbish bins
How do I provide personal care?
Care professionals are just that, trained professionals. However, a good deal of what they do can be done without any serious training. Here is just a little guidance on how to reduce infection when performing some of the simpler tasks:
- In and around the house: Aprons and gloves should always be worn. Gloves should be changed not only between tasks such as cleaning or meal preparation but also when between washing the top half of a person to the bottom half. This is so, should the water be changed, an infection can pass around a person’s body by cross-contamination.
- Showering and bathing: When preparing to wash your loved one, you need dark coloured towels and flannels to be used on the lower half of the body and lighter coloured for the top half. These need to be washed regularly on a hot temperature. Or an even better solution is to use dry wipes for washing, as these are only used once and disposed of, so there is even less chance of spreading infection.
- Your protective gear: Removing gloves and aprons is also carried out in a certain way to minimise the spread of infection. When removing gloves they should be turned inside out and wrapped one into the other. Masks and aprons should be removed and folded inside out. Then hands should be washed thoroughly and dried with paper towels.
Ease your mind
We hope that this has helped provide you with useful information, and helped to ease your concerns and questions. Keep up to date with our blog to find further information on caring for others.
Need to know more?
For further information on giving care and avoiding infections take a look through our sources.