Infection Prevention and Control Practices for Caregivers
People over the age of 65 and those with chronic diseases are more susceptible to infection and negative outcomes from illnesses of all types. If you are a caregiver or you live with someone who is at-risk of severe illness, it is essential to follow regular strong infection prevention practices.
Infection prevention skills are especially important if you provide regular and direct contact care for your loved one. This includes the activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting, feeding and personal hygiene. As a caregiver, understanding how to reduce the spread of infection in the home environment will help to keep you and the person in your care safe. Read on for more information on the best practices and standards for infection prevention and control (IPAC).
Proper handwashing is considered the single most effective way to prevent the spread of illness. As a caregiver, you should wash your hands:
- Before, during and after preparing or eating food
- After using the washroom
- Before and after providing hands-on care
- After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
- Before and after touching your face, mouth or nose
- After touching pets
- After handling garbage or other contaminated surfaces like linens
- Whenever hands are visibly soiled or dirty
Soap and Water
When available, soap and water is always the best option for cleaning hands. To effectively remove bacteria and viruses using soap and water:
- Wet your hands and wrists with warm, running water. Apply soap.
- Lather the soap and rub hands palm-to-palm, in between your fingers, the back of each hand, and the fingertips and thumbs of each hand for at least 15 seconds.
- Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands and turn off the faucet using a paper towel.
Use liquid soap whenever possible as bar soap is known to harbour bacteria. If you see that someone interacting with your loved one hasn’t washed their hands, politely ask them to do so. This can include a health professional, friend or family member.
Hand Sanitizer or Alcohol-Based Hand Rub
If you are out of the house or away from a sink, using hand sanitizer is the most effective way to clean your hands. Regularly sanitizing in public places will help to protect you from getting sick and transmitting an illness to your loved one. To use hand sanitizer effectively:
- Apply one to two pumps of hand sanitizer to the palms of your dry hands.
- Rub your hands together palm-to-palm, in between and around your fingers, the back of each hand, and the fingertips and thumbs of each hand.
- Rub for approximately 15 seconds or until the product is dry (do not wipe on paper towel).
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
When necessary, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a crucial piece of infection prevention. Masks and gloves are the PPE most commonly used by caregivers. It is also important to know how to put on and take off this equipment properly.
If you are performing tasks that may involve exposure to blood or bodily fluids, you should wear disposable gloves. This can include activities like mouth, wound or ostomy care, emptying catheter bags or incontinence management. Casual contact such as bed transfers or cleaning intact skin does not require gloves.
- Remove any jewellery that could rip your gloves.
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly and put on gloves.
- Avoid touching anything that isn’t related to the task.
- Gloves are task specific and should be changed between each personal care task.
- To remove, pull the glove down from the outside edge near your wrist turning it inside out.
- Hold the glove in your other gloved hand. Peel from the wrist edge again and roll into a ball.
- Discard both gloves in a closed garbage and wash your hands.
If you are providing care when you or your loved one have a respiratory infection, mask wearing is recommended. This will help to prevent the inhalation of respiratory droplets which can cause transmission. Here’s how to put on, take off and wear masks effectively:
- Wash your hands before putting on your disposable mask.
- Only touch the ear bands when putting on or taking off your mask.
- Make sure the mask covers your nose, mouth and chin. Pinch the stiff edge to your nose and smooth the top of the mask along your nose and cheek bones.
- Avoid touching the front of your mask during use.
- When finished, throw the mask in the garbage and wash your hands again.
Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent you from getting or spreading an illness. If your loved one has reduced immunity due to age or are immunocompromised from cancer treatment or other chronic disease, they may not be eligible for or fully protected by vaccines. If possible, stay up-to-date on vaccines and boosters for COVID-19, seasonal influenza, hepatitis and measles. It is also beneficial to encourage other friends and family members to get immunized.
CLEAN AND DISINFECT SURFACES
Regularly clean all high-touch areas—tables, doorknobs, handles, light switches, bed and bathroom rails, faucets, remotes etc. Follow the instructions for the disinfectant you are using to have effective results. If you or the person in your care is ill, you should increase your frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high touch areas as well as shared spaces and all equipment.
Never throw soiled linens, incontinence products or other potentially infectious materials on the floor. Place them in an appropriate container until you can wash or dispose of them. You should also avoid sharing towels, face cloths, toothbrushes, food, drinks and other personal items.
For more information on infection prevention and control for caregivers, visit the Public Health Unit, Government of Ontario and Public Health Ontario websites. You can find your local Public Health Unit using this locator.
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