Feature Infection Prevention

The First Line of Defense: How Nurses Can Prevent Hospital Acquired Infections on Linen and Scrubs

It’s a well-established fact that nurses are the real heroes when it comes to healthcare. In fact, nurses are often the lifeblood of the entire hospital operation. Most are already keenly aware of how to protect against infections and contamination in a hospital setting – they know exactly how sensitive patients can be to hospital-acquired infections and are consistently taking the appropriate measure to prevent the potential spread.

However, hospital-acquired infections, or HAIs, are very common. In fact, according to the CDC, about 1 in every 25 hospital patients in the United States is diagnosed with at least one HAI – and that’s just hospitals. A number of HAIs are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which makes it even more crucial to prevent infection from the beginning.

The Spread of Pathogens in Healthcare Settings

It’s easy to underestimate how quickly pathogenic organisms can spread through healthcare settings. Hospitals and other healthcare centers focus on cleanliness and sanitization after all, and this does prevent a large percentage of pathogens from spreading. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the benefits of wearing masks and frequent hand-washing as a means of infection control for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Yet still, patients can be diagnosed with HAIs. The spread of infection is not due to a lack of diligence; instead, it’s our own unwitting participation in what’s referred to as ‘the chain of infection.’ Passing pathogens from people to objects and then back to people, over and over again without proper interference such as disinfecting, laundering or sanitization, can transport these infections.

Fomites: An Example of the Chain of Infection

One of the most telling examples of how the chain of infection can stretch long and far is in the form of fomites. A fomite is defined as any object or material that is likely to carry an infection. Nearly anything that has a surface that’s amenable to pathogens, like utensils and furniture, are good examples of fomites.

In a healthcare setting, this often takes the form of textiles. One way facilities address this is by diligently changing linens on patient beds, and discouraging visitors from sitting on patient beds. At the same time, the very scrubs that nurses and other healthcare professionals wear every day, if not appropriately laundered and replaced, can act as fomites as well, inadvertently exposing patients to these very same pathogens. Curtains between beds are also traditionally replaced much less frequently than linens due to the time it can take staff to manually manage these. With all this in mind, how can nurses prevent hospital-acquired infections for their patients?

Taking Precautions to Minimize or Prevent Pathogen Spread

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep HAIs at bay through already-established processes to both minimize and help prevent the spread of pathogens inside a hospital setting. Nurses and doctors alike know the importance of hand hygiene, for example, and how thoroughly washing your hands properly can cut down on pathogen transmission by a significant margin. Other known precautionary methods include:

Personal Protective Equipment

Another form of infection control for nurses is wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and wearing PPE effectively. The not-so-humble isolation gown, worn to great effect by nurses, clinicians and other healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic in conjunction with N95 respirator masks and face shields, is a perfect example of truly effective PPE.

Any reusable PPE must also be thoroughly laundered and sanitized to protect nurses and patients alike. These infection control measures include replenishing fluid repellency at every wash and conducting strike-through tests for efficacy. Diligence around PPE laundering is key to enhanced protection, and medical facilities must ensure an effective sanitizing wash process is followed.

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Environmental Cleanliness

Outside of a nurse’s personal responsibilities of handwashing and always wearing clean PPE, the front line against HAIs involves the constant changing and laundering of linen. However, environmental cleanliness is a facility-wide endeavor, driven by environmental services and housekeeping.

Hospital management must follow proper guidelines closely when cleaning mops and mats. And a comprehensive laundering process should be in place across a facility’s complete inventory of bed sheets, pillowcases, gowns, and other vital supplies. Additionally, scrubs and other healthcare materials (such as often-overlooked items like privacy curtains) must be thoroughly and appropriately sanitized.

Maintaining and cleaning these linens throughout a healthcare facility can be strenuous and time-consuming. This is why many medical practices will outsource to linen and laundry providers. It enables compliance and provides peace of mind all at once.

Infection Prevention – A Key Component to Environmental Cleanliness
ImageFIRST is an industry leader in infection prevention and protection. Proactive steps are taken to ensure the safety of staff and patients by using a Triple BioShield Protection® process. Certified through independent third-party laboratory testing, this process employs a “dead on contact” wash that kills 99.999% of pathogens* commonly found on scrubs, linens, and healthcare facility materials. Not only does ImageFIRST meet OSHA, CDC, and HLAC standards – they exceed them.

Reinforcing Your Culture of Safety

Finally, effective infection control for nurses and staff involves building upon your hospital or healthcare center’s existing processes to reinforce your facility’s established culture of safety. As new safety standards and protocols are released by regulatory bodies, updating safety standards and reviewing them internally with staff members reinforces this culture and helps safeguard your patients from HAIs.

The First Line of Defense

Nurses don’t need to be told how crucial their job is. They save lives every day – and when they’re not, they’re providing comfort and care to those who need it most. This makes asking even more of our nurses seem like trying to squeeze blood from a stone, but as one of the first lines of defense against patients being diagnosed with hospital-acquired infections, there’s no one better situated to make a positive difference in our hospitals.

Controlling HAI exposure can be as simple as it is effective. When viewed through the lens of fomite transmission, using only the cleanest possible linens and scrubs during their daily duties aids nurses in their efforts toward facility infection control. Partnering with a leader in infection prevention for linen, such as ImageFIRST, frees healthcare staff from worrying about clean linen so that they can focus on what matters most: providing excellent patient care.

Combined with personal hygiene, environmental cleanliness procedures, and a facility-wide culture of safety, the support of a dedicated linen partner can add a level of infection prevention that exceeds standards. This gives nurses on the frontline of infection control the support they need to help prevent the spread of pathogens.

To learn more, talk to your local ImageFIRST partner about how we can help safeguard your staff and patients.

* For supporting data, please contact Ecolab

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