Infection Control for Healthcare Workers: 7 Ways to Avoid Bringing Germs Home from Work
With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers are now on the front lines. Many of them will be exposed to the virus during their work and are wondering how to protect themselves and their loved ones from accidentally bringing home the virus. Here are seven things you can do to reduce your chances of bringing germs home:
Protect yourself at work.
Do everything you can to lessen your potential exposure while at work. Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when hand washing isn’t an option. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as much as you can. Supplies are running short in some areas, but hospital staff are being prioritized. Ideally, you should be wearing a gown, gloves and either an N95 respirator plus a face shield or goggles or a powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR). If neither of these is available, you can resort to a medical mask.
Disinfect personal items.
Staying clean doesn’t only apply to your person. Hard surfaces can also carry the coronavirus molecules for up to several days. Wipe down cell phones, pagers and other personal communications that you carry (and touch) frequently. Also watch out for clipboards, pens, keyboards, computers and other objects with a hard surface that you handle frequently. Wipe or wash them down as frequently as you can. If you’re worried about damaging your devices, double check the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning, but in most cases, a disinfectant wipe should be fine.
Change before driving home.
You say that you take off scrubs as soon as you get home, but that means you’ve still gotten germs all over your car. Now more than ever, you should bring a change of clothes that you can keep sealed in a separate clean bag and change out of your scrubs before getting in your car–ideally before leaving the hospital. Place your scrubs in a separate, dirty bag that you only use for transporting worn scrubs back to your house. If you put clean clothes for today in the same bag that your dirty clothes were in yesterday, you're defeating the purpose. You should also change into a clean pair of shoes (more on this in a minute).
Wash with the hottest water possible.
If your washer has a sanitization cycle, now is the time to use it. Take your scrubs straight to the washing machine as soon as you get home and place them in the drum. Do not wash them with any other clothes. You don’t want those to get contaminated. Put the washing machine on the hottest setting possible and add detergent to the load. You can also add bleach for extra peace of mind. Once you’re finished washing your scrubs, transfer the scrubs to the dryer and dry them on the highest setting for at least 30 minutes to kill any remaining microorganisms.
Sanitize your shoes.
If you must take your shoes home with you, do not bring them into the house. Leave them in the garage or another area that doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. If that isn’t an option, you might be able to store them in your locker at work. Make sure you seal your shoes in a bag if you take this route so they can’t contaminate anything else in your locker. You should wipe down your shoes with disinfectant after every shift if you can. If they’re made of fabric, you’ll need to throw them in the washer periodically and then let them air dry. For more information on cleaning and taking care of your nursing shoes, please see our guide.
Follow proper nursing bag technique.
If you carry a nursing bag, you’ll need to sanitize it even more often than usual. Remove everything from the bag and disinfect the interior and exterior. While you allow it to dry thoroughly, examine the content and sanitize everything inside as well. Once everything is finished drying, replace all the objects and disinfect the surface you cleaned the bag on. Get more tips for nursing bag technique here.
Monitor yourself for symptoms and do not treat patients if you are feeling ill. If you’re worried about being an asymptomatic carrier and passing it along to your family, you might need to take further steps, such as isolating yourself in a separate living space, using your own bathroom and preparing and eating meals separately. This is especially important if your partner, kids or roommates are high risk and especially susceptible to COVID-19. Keep lines of communication open and talk about what you can do to keep each other safe.
Following the guidelines and staying vigilant are key to making sure that coronavirus germs stay where they belong–at the hospital. Thank you to our nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers for everything they are doing to fight the pandemic!