Don’t Spread It – Infection Control When Providing First Aid
A fact of life that will never change is that bacteria and viruses are everywhere around us. Some ‘bad’, some ‘good’ and some won’t affect us at all. Coughing, breathing, touching and bodily fluids can all spread these microorganisms between us and even lead to serious deadly diseases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) assesses the risk of the current Coronavirus to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level based on the categorisation of "a global evaluation of risk, covering severity, spread and capacity to cope". Thus, it is very important that everyone understands how to protect themselves and others.
When providing First Aid, you should think of each situation as potentially infectious. When there are wounds that contain blood, CPR that can involve saliva, or even a case of poisoning that could feature vomit, there is the potential to be exposed to any type of bodily fluid when interacting with someone who is unwell.
While rare, there have been documented cases of disease transmission of Tuberculosis and Hepatitis to First Aiders. Being aware of these risks means you can put measures in place to reduce them. You should aim to minimise the possibility of spreading disease both to benefit yourself and the person you are providing First Aid to.
Standard Precautions for Infection Control
There are some basic practices to follow to prevent spreading infections when providing First Aid, whether there are known or unknown infections present:
- Good hygiene practices
- Wearing personal protective equipment
- Appropriate handling of clinical waste (sharps, human tissue or fluids, used dressings)
If you treat the procedures for infection control as automatic each time a First Aid incident is attended, there will be little room for microorganisms to sneak through.
Colds & Flus
Highly common, colds and flus are especially rampant in a Melbourne winter and reducing their spread helps us all stay healthy. Everyday actions like coughing, hand to nose, hand to eye, hand to mouth or hand to hand can quickly transmit respiratory secretions full of the viruses that cause colds and flu.
Even if you’re not showing any symptoms, it’s important to follow some common sense tips, as Influenza can be contagious for 24 hours before symptoms even appear. Some of these tips for yourself and a casualty you are treating include:
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or with your folded elbow
- Dispose of tissues in a bin after use
- Wash hands thoroughly after contact with respiratory secretions
- Use a surgical mask if either the First Aider or the casualty are coughing
- Use a pocket mask or face shield when doing mouth to mouth CPR
Washing hands effectively is the number one way to stop infections in their tracks. In fact, it can prevent about 30% of diarrhoea related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (source).
It sounds so simple and we do it every day, however, many adults don’t follow best practice and are spreading disease unknowingly and unwittingly. It’s more than just running your hands underwater for a few seconds. A few tips you should follow to make sure you’re doing it properly:
- Wash hands both before and after providing First Aid and in between casualties
- Use soap and warm running water
- Rub hands together with lather for at least 20 seconds, ensuring you rub between fingers, under nails and the backs of hands
- Rinse hands well under running water
- Dry thoroughly with a paper towel that you then dispose of
- If soap and water are unavailable, use antiseptic wipes to clean hands and apply a sanitising liquid or gel that contains at least 60% alcohol
However, you should never touch any wounds or used dressings with your bare hands, which is where personal protective equipment is vital.
Personal Protective Equipment
Because you’ll likely come in contact with blood or bodily fluids, gloves are essential when providing any form of First Aid. In addition, other personal protective equipment such as face masks, eye protection, resuscitation masks or shields should be used as appropriate.
Consider the following when providing First Aid:
- Use disposable gloves designed for only one use
- If you have an allergy or sensitivity to latex, use nitrile gloves
- Remove gloves without touching the outside surface of the used gloves with your bare hands
- If your gloves tear while providing First Aid, take them off and wash and dry your hands, then put on a new pair of gloves
Keeping your First Aid Kit well stocked with personal protective equipment like gloves and respirator masks will mean you never get caught without the right gear. In fact, OHS legislation states that in the workplace your kits should remain adequately stocked. You should check your kit at least monthly to make sure you have enough supplies, but if this is a task you’d rather not have to do then our Kit Servicing agents can come to your premises and check your kits.
What to Do If You’re Exposed to Blood
While rare, you could be exposed to blood that enters your own body system as a First Aider. A wound on your own skin could become contaminated with blood from the casualty or it could splash into your eyes. Even rarer, a needle contaminated with blood or body fluid could pierce your skin (needle-stick injury).
Here’s what you should do if you come into contact with blood or your skin is penetrated by an item contaminated with blood or body fluids:
- Wash the area well with soap and water
- Apply an antiseptic if available
- Rinse out eyes if exposed with running water or saline for at least 5 minutes
- Seek medical advice within hours of exposure
- Safely contain the item (such as needle, contaminated dressing, etc.) for testing if required
- Rinse the mouth out with water several times if exposed inside the mouth
If you’ve been exposed to any bodily fluids, consider yourself as potentially infectious and take extra precautions. However, bear in mind that only a very small proportion of accidental exposure to blood results in infection such as HIV or Hepatitis.
As a First Aider, you may be at higher risk of infection due to your role. To protect yourself and the casualty/s you are providing First Aid to, keep infection control front of mind at all times. One small lapse in procedure could put you or others at risk, however following our guide will mean that your exposure is limited.