Maintaining A Clean Environment In Your Care Home: Top Tips To Minimise The Spread Of Illness

by Dr Peter Barratt, Technical Manager, Initial Washroom Hygiene

hand-washingStaff in care homes provide high levels of care for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. In periods of colder weather, when we all spend more times indoors, we are more susceptible to illness and to cross-infection. All members of staff in the care home can make a difference to help make sure that facilities remain hygienic in busy periods. Upholding such high standards can be challenging, as it is a complex task, and disruption to residents must be kept at a minimum.

Furthermore, the NHS’s announcement that patients and their families can compare care home performances on the ‘My NHS’ portal adds pressure to institutions that already comply with strict hygiene legislation. In this article, I will explore some simple steps that care workers can take to ensure hygiene standards are kept to a high standard, minimising the risks of residents contracting these different winter germs.

Prevention is better than cure
With most bacteria and 80 percent of viruses transmissible through touch , a little extra care in hand and surface hygiene goes a long way in helping to prevent common illnesses from spreading through the care home. Making sure staff and visitors implement the three tips below will also give residents and their families’ confidence in the institutions’ ability to take care of their loved ones.

1. Promote good hand hygiene standards
All staff should be trained in hand decontamination procedures. It is recommended that even under normal circumstances you should wash your hands for the same length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice (approximately 30 seconds). At critical times, when sickness bugs may have become prevalent, even more care needs to be taken on hygiene.

The golden rule for hand washing is wash, dry and sanitise. Installing hand wash stations with liquid or foam hand wash and water, as well as hand sanitisers in easily accessible areas, will help ensure that this is followed. Damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands, so it is a good idea to display posters with hand washing guidelines so that the correct techniques are practiced by everyone in the facility, from staff to visitors.

2. Cleaning regimes
Ensure regular, thorough cleaning takes place in communal areas such as the kitchen and washroom facilities. Encourage staff to clean their own work surfaces and those of the residents they are caring for by providing antibacterial wipes and hand sanitising gels.

In the kitchen, try to avoid using shared items such as tea towels as they can be home to high levels of bacteria and are not cleaned as regularly. Alternatives include using paper tissue or hand towel dispensers.
A deep clean should be conducted by a professional company at least twice a year. However, a deep clean becomes a necessity after any kind of outbreak at the care home (where several individuals have contracted the same illness).

3. Reduce virus spread
If a staff member suspects they have a virus or similar illness, they should not return to work for another 48 hours after their symptoms have disappeared to ensure they are not contagious. If you suspect a resident has contracted a virus, isolate them as far as possible for at least the same period, and ensure that the staff members attending to that resident adhere to a stricter infection control policy than usual.

Care home managers could consider air disinfection units for the building, helping to reduce airborne microorganisms. Remember, germs spread through the air as well as by direct or indirect contact. Such units can also be combined with units that emit scent, so as to minimise odours coming from malodour-producing bacteria. Carefully selected scents can also create a much greater sense of wellbeing and relaxation throughout the building.

Common illnesses in the care home
There are four illnesses prevalent in the care home. The information below will help you to identify their symptoms in residents.

1. Norovirus (winter vomiting bug)
Symptoms include suddenly feeling sick, projectile vomiting and diarrhoea. Norovirus traits can appear two or three days after you have caught the virus and will typically last two or three days.

2. Flu (influenza)
Flu (influenza virus) can give you a sudden fever (a temperature of 38C or above). It will come on quickly and it will usually be accompanied by muscle aches. Flu will make the infected person feel as though they cannot continue easily with their day to day activities.

3. Gastroenteritis (‘stomach bug’)
The main symptoms of Gastroenteritis are feeling sick, having a high temperature and diarrhoea. Make sure that infected people have lots of water or dilute juice to drink, as it is very easy to become dehydrated while recovering.

4. Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)
Signs of a C.difficile are very similar to Gastroenteritis, though patients on antibiotics can be particularly vulnerable to this. This is because some medicines can interfere with the natural balance of bacteria in the stomach that protects against infection.

Final Thoughts
If a number of staff or patients have contracted one of the above then a deep clean by a specialist hygiene company is essential. One of the latest innovations in deep cleaning is ULV disinfectant fogging technology, which enables the treatment of large areas in a short space of time and with minimal disruption to residents.

In addition to the use of specialist cleaners and the latest cleaning technologies, it is important to encourage both staff and visitors to the care home to take personal responsibility for hygiene by following correct hygienic practices. Our three top tips will help to prevent the spread of illness in the care home, and a visible hygiene strategy will ensure that all visitors leave reassured that their friend or family member is being well looked after.

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