Staff education on preventing the spread of infection
All members of the practice team need to be educated about their role in preventing the spread of infection.
Education includes the teaching of the principles of infection prevention and control, including the various infectious agents, their modes of transmission, appropriate work practices for infection prevention and control, and what personal protection is required and when to use it.
All staff need to demonstrate competency (appropriate to their role) in:
- identifying the signs and symptoms of influenza
- hand-hygiene procedures
- standard precautions
- transmission-based precautions
- managing blood and body fluid spills
- managing blood or body fluid exposure
- waste management
- principles of environmental cleaning and reprocessing medical equipment
- notification and referral pathways to appropriate health authorities
- where to find information on other aspects of infection control and pandemic protocols in the practice.
Understanding why precautions (such as masks) are used and the factors that have an impact on their effectiveness is critical to ensuring that staff are adequately protected, comfortable and can perform their jobs.13
During a pandemic, roles within the practice team may change. Some staff will need to multitask and take on additional responsibilities. This may mean additional training in infection prevention and control practices.
For more information about hand hygiene, refer to an online hand-hygiene course.
Patient education on preventing the spread of infection
Patient education and engagement is vital for effective pandemic management. The public needs to be empowered to take responsibility for their own health.23 Educating patients on the issues around pandemics increases awareness of risks, engenders cooperation, facilitates co-ownership and commitment, and assists in the prevention of transmission and complications.
Patients should be educated about infection prevention and control strategies (eg cough etiquette, hand hygiene) and be encouraged to report any potential infectious disease to practice staff as soon as possible. Research shows that providing information about influenza prevention at the community level can help reduce severe and complicated cases of influenza requiring hospitalisation.24
During flu season and/or the standby stage, it is recommended that practices display posters to remind patients of the importance of handwashing and cough etiquette. The posters can be accessed on the RACGP’s emergency response web page.
Seasonal influenza vaccines are ‘safe and efficacious and have the potential to prevent significant annual morbidity and mortality’ according to the WHO.25 It is recommended that general practices encourage influenza vaccinations for all staff and patients as per the NHMRC’s Australian immunisation handbook (10th edition).26 This serves as an effective measure to reduce transmission of influenza.
Seasonal influenza vaccination uptake is low among healthcare workers. After the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, Mexico was the only country that experienced a significant increase in uptake of seasonal influenza vaccination.27 The most common reasons for healthcare staff rejecting vaccination are fear of adverse events, doubt regarding efficacy, believing to be part of a low-risk group and believing that influenza is not a serious illness. The main predictor of vaccine uptake is previous influenza vaccination.28 Strategies to improve vaccination rates include in-practice vaccination programs for staff, use of practice ‘champions’, electronic databases to track vaccinations, and marketing campaigns.29,30