Vaccine Shortage Reminds Us: Back to Basics
"Rationing" | "Shortage" | "Local Emergency" | "Resolutions" | "Priority Groups"
These words have all been contained in scores of press releases from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health departments. There is an influenza vaccine shortage of monumental proportions this year, and the Infection Control professionals at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, an affiliate of Sutter Health, are reminding the community that over the next few months, we can stay healthy by using simple tools readily available to each and everyone of us. It's a "Back to Basics" message!
It's very simple and mostly free
Good Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette are the official terms, but it's exactly what your mother use to tell you. . . "Wash your hands" and "Cover your cough!" These two simple rules will go a long way in helping keep you healthy . . . not only during this difficult flu season - but all year long!
Wash Your Hands
"We want the community to 'get lathered up' - several times a day!" says Amy Nichols, RN, MBA, CIC, Manager of Infection Control at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. "Good and frequent hand washing (or hand hygiene) literally does away with the threat of most illness."
Nichols went on to say, "We are surrounded by these bugs on a daily basis: on telephones, shopping carts, computer equipment, faucet handles, door knobs, ATM machines, elevator buttons, computer equipment - germs, or bacteria, are there waiting to hitchhike on our hands. And, if we're not aware, if we don't really think about it, many of those bugs can make us or someone close to us really sick."
Cover Your Cough
In addition to hand hygiene - Alta Bates Summit Infection Control professionals are urging the public to "Cover Your Cough!" "We began posting signs in several languages throughout the medical center during the threat of SARS two years ago," Nichols said. "These signs explain another important piece of stopping the spread of germs - simply cover your mouth and nose with a tissue - any kind of tissue - when you cough or sneeze. Or, you can cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, elbow or shoulder, not your hands, if a tissue is not immediately available. Next step, throw the used tissue into a wastebasket. It's that easy!"
Alta Bates Summit has strict Infection Control policies regarding hand cleansing for patient care staff. These policies are easily transferable to daily hygiene:
- Cleanse your hands:
- Before and after patient contact
- Before eating
- After toileting
- After putting on make-up or lip balm
- After any hand-soiling event or activity
- After touching your face.
Some of us are more susceptible to colds or other illnesses - such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, young children or those with chronic disease. They have to be extra careful about germs that are simply a part of our daily environment. Restrooms are a particularly "at risk area" - even the most spotless environment can harbor microbial contamination.
The CDC recommends that you wash your hands vigorously, covering all surfaces and under nails, with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds. That's long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. If this isn't done, some of the microorganisms remain on your hands, meaning you could still transmit those germs to your mouth, eyes, food, or to others - leading to illness.
"We're not only concerned about exposure to colds and flu, but germs that cause eye and skin infections or intestinal problems like diarrhea," said Nichols. "Some germs and bacteria can last from two hours to two days on the hard surfaces found in restrooms. Someone who sneezes into their hands and then touches a handle or door can spread those germs to the next person."
Alcohol-based, waterless hand sanitizers are an easy and affordable product. Many individuals carry these sanitizing products with them on a regular basis. From wiping off a shopping cart handle or public telephone to ensuring a clean household – there are many sanitizing products that can be used. While not underwriting particular products, Alta Bates Summit Infection Control staff did a quick shopping tour and found a good selection available at local stores. "I found that Purell, for example, has alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel available at local drug stores and larger grocery stores," said Deborah Guerami, RN, Infection Control Coordinator. "Local drug stores such as Longs and Walgreens have their own brand of alcohol-based hand cleansers, as well as sanitizing towelettes. These products are easily carried, are effective, and do not require water for application."
Guerami went on to say that, "Products like Clorox Wipes, are effective and easy to use - but just for surfaces, not for hand washing. I was surprised and pleased to see that Diablo
Foods in Lafayette, had placed a container of Sani-Cloths on the wall where customers pick up the carts to shop, encouraging their customers to do their part in reducing the risk of disease transmission."
Most grocery or drug stores also carry antibacterial soaps either as national brand-name products or under their store brand. These products do require running water and the 15-second hand wash to be effective, and there is not agreement on whether they've been shown to reduce disease transmission.
Antibacterial soaps that many grocery or drug stores carry are fine to use-as long as they are used appropriately. These products are not a "magic bullet." In the general public, antibacterial products have not been shown to decrease disease over their traditional counterparts. If these products are less expensive than traditional products, they might be purchased for home use.
Antibacterial soaps are used in healthcare facilities where resistant organisms might be identified.
So, remember what mama said, "Wash your hands – well," and please, "Cover your cough." With some simple common sense steps, most individuals will make it through the flu and cold season staying well.
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center offers comprehensive services designed to meet the health care needs of the diverse communities
of the greater East Bay Area.
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center is a community based and