National Infection Prevention Week (NIPW) takes place the third week of October each year. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the role infection prevention plays to improve patient safety. I hardly need to remind you how quickly air borne diseases like Covid-19 and flu can spread; you probably already know people who are coughing, sneezing and feeling generally unwell. This year’s theme is “Unite and Conquer” – Over the past year and half, we have banded together to stop the spread of Covid and although it’s corny to say we are all in this together, infection control is the responsibility of everyone not just a select few.

Most winter illnesses enter our bodies from the nose, mouth or eyes. An infected person coughs or sneezes and the virus is spread to the air and the surrounding surfaces. Others then touch that surface (like a telephone receiver or door handle) and then touch their face or eat before washing their hands. Once the virus is in the body, it grows and the cycle of sickness continues.

So how can we stop the spread? First and foremost is handwashing. Washing with soap and water for 30 seconds is one of the best methods to remove these germs. If you can’t wash your hands, then rubbing them with a hand sanitizer is also effective. Carrying hand sanitizer is convenient especially if you are doing things like handling money, using shared computers and telephones. Another way to reduce your chance of getting sick is to keep your immunizations (including the flu shot) up to date. Not only can the flu shot help you to stay healthy, but it can also reduce the chance of spreading influenza. This is especially important if you live with, or visit, high risk individuals such as the very young and very old, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or liver or kidney disease.

If you’re already feeling sick, try to stop the spread by coughing into your elbow and turn away from people when doing so. Coughing into the hands is a bad idea as you later touch everything with your germ-covered fingers! Another way to protect your co-workers is to stay home if you are unwell. You may feel like you’re letting your co-workers down by calling in sick, but you can make things worse if you make everyone around you ill.

Wearing a mask properly is critical if you cannot maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (2 metres). The mask should fit snugly and cover both the mouth and the nose. All too often I see people with masks covering their chin or their mouth and the nose is exposed!

Take care of yourselves and each other.