Hand Hygiene is the #1 way to Prevent the Spread of Infection

Prevention is the key to stopping the spread of many infectious diseases and sometimes can make the difference between life and death. Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. Unfortunately, improper or infrequent handwashing continues to be a major factor in the spread of disease. Other important ways to prevent infection include following the appropriate immunization schedule, and using precautions with pets and on the job.


Maureen Hodson, Infection Control

What is the best way to wash hands?

At home or work, wash your hands often—and properly:

  • Use clean, running water; if available, use warm water.
  • Wet your hands before applying soap.
  • Rub your soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to wash all surfaces well, including your wrists, palms, backs of hands, and between fingers.
  • Clean and remove the dirt from under your fingernails.
  • Under running water, rinse your hands thoroughly to remove all soap.
  • Dry your hands with an air dryer or a clean paper towel.
  • Turn off the faucet with a paper towel.

If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to clean your hands. When using this type of product:

  • Apply the gel to the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry.

How often should I wash my hands?

Hands should be washed often—more frequently than most adults and children do. Because bacteria and other germs cannot be seen with the naked eye, they can be anywhere. According to the CDC, handwashing is especially important:

  • Before preparing food
  • Before meals
  • Before and after treating an open sore, cut, or wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the restroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling garbage
  • When hands are dirty
  • When someone around you is ill

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning and disinfecting are two different things. Cleaning simply refers to using soap and water to remove dirt and most germs. Disinfecting, on the other hand, refers to cleaning solutions that contain ingredients that kill bacteria and other germs. Many surfaces look clean, but may be contaminated with germs.

The CDC recommends the following when cleaning and/or disinfecting:

  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning up blood, vomit, or feces, and when you have cuts or abrasions on your hand that make it easy for an infection to enter the body. 
  • Read the directions on the cleaning product label, including the precautions.
  • First, clean the surface with soap (or another cleaner)* and water.
  • Second, use a disinfectant on the surface, and leave it on for a few minutes, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Third, wipe the surface dry with a paper towel, and throw the paper towel away, or use a cloth towel that is washed afterward.
  • Fourth, wash your hands thoroughly, even after wearing gloves.*Always store cleaning solutions and other household chemicals in their original containers and out of children’s reach.

The two most important household areas to clean and disinfect properly are the kitchen and the bathroom. In the kitchen, bacteria from raw food can contaminate surfaces and food preparation areas. Without proper cleaning, this can spread disease. Other important areas that require proper cleaning include children’s changing tables and diaper pails.

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Air Quality Reports

American Lung Association State of the Air – http://www.stateoftheair.org/

Air Quality Smart Phone Application from the American Lung Association – http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/outdoor/state-of-the-air/app.html

Asthma Capitals – http://www.asthmacapitals.com/

Air Quality Improving in Many U.S. Cities

Air quality in America’s most polluted cities has improved significantly over the past decade, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

Even Los Angeles, famous for its morning smog, is the cleanest it’s been in 13 years, the association noted. Santa Fe, N.M. leads the pack, having been ranked as the cleanest city in the nation.

Despite progress in reducing the level of smog and soot in the air, the “State of the Air” report warned that unhealthy levels of air pollution still persist around the country.

“‘State of the Air’ shows that we’re making real and steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air we breathe,” Charles Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in an association news release. “We owe this to the ongoing protection of the Clean Air Act. But despite these improvements, America’s air quality standards are woefully outdated, and unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation, putting the health of millions of Americans at stake.”

In rating the air quality in cities and counties around the country, the lung association takes into account the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which alerts the public about unhealthy air conditions. The report, released Wednesday, also used data collected by the EPA from 2008 to 2010 on ozone and particle pollution.

The report found drastic improvements in 18 of the 25 cities most polluted by ozone. Nine out of the top 10 cities most polluted by ozone were in California. Topping the list was Los Angeles, although it showed the lowest smog levels since the report was first published back in 2000.

Particle pollution also dropped significantly in 17 of the 25 most polluted cities, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. This mix of microscopic bits of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols can lead to early death, heart attacks and strokes.

Four cities — Pittsburgh, San Diego, Philadelphia and Visalia, Calif. — dropped to their lowest levels of short-term particle pollution on record, the report noted. Birmingham, Ala., Detroit and York, Pa., dropped off the list of the 25 most polluted cities entirely — a first for all three.

The lung association cautioned that much work remains to be done to improve air quality in the United States. Forty percent of Americans, or 127 million people, live in areas where air pollution poses a threat to their health. These people are at greater risk for wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death, the report noted.

Infants, children, seniors and anyone with lung diseases, heart disease or diabetes are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. Those with low incomes or jobs that require them to work outside are also at greater risk.

The report revealed that 38.5 percent of Americans live in counties that received an “F” for air quality because of unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution, which can cause chronic health problems. Meanwhile, almost 50 million people in the United States live in counties with unhealthy surges in particle pollution levels. Year-round particle pollution threatens another 6 million Americans.

The standards set under the Clean Air Act are a driving force behind the improvement in air quality in the United States, according to the lung association. The legislation aims to clean up major sources of air pollution such as coal-fired power plants and diesel engines to reduce the amount of ozone and particle pollution in the air. The EPA estimated that cutting air pollution through this measure would prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.

The report warned, however, that the positive trend in U.S. air quality will not continue if opponents of the Clean Air Act gain the upper hand on Capitol Hill.

“We still need to fulfill the promise of clean, healthy air for everyone, and that can only become a reality through the full implementation of the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association strongly opposes any efforts to weaken, delay, or undermine the protective standards the law provides,” said Connor. “The American Lung Association has been leading the fight for clean air for decades, and we are as determined as ever to give every American the clean air they deserve to breathe every day.”

To make an appointment to see a HealthAlliance Hospital physician about asthma or allergies call the physician referral line at (978) 665-5900. Like our Facebook page to receive Facebook updates about asthma and other heath related topics.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on air pollution.

SOURCE: American Lung Association, news release, April 25, 2012

Understanding and Preventing Heat-Related Illness in Your Child

Heat-related illness occurs when the body’s temperature gets too high. Body temperature can be affected by the temperature of the air and by level of physical activity. To protect your child from heat-related illness, follow the tips on this sheet.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness?

Heat-related illness can range in symptoms from mild (heat cramps), to moderate (heat exhaustion), to severe (heat stroke).

  • Mild: Heat Cramps
    • Sweating a lot
    • Having painful spasm in muscles during activity or hours later (heat cramps)
    • Developing tiny red bumps on skin and a prickly sensation (heat rash or prickly heat)
    • Feeling irritable, dizzy, or weak
  • Moderate: Heat Exhaustion
    • Sweating a lot
    • Having cold, moist, pale, or flushed skin
    • Feeling very weak or tired
    • Having headache, nausea, loss of appetite
    • Having rapid or weak pulse
    • Having cramps
  • Severe: Heat StrokeNOTE: If your child has symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 or take your child to the emergency department right away.
    • Not sweating
    • Having hot, dry skin that looks red, gray, or bluish
    • Having deep, fast breathing
    • Having headache or nausea
    • Having rapid, weak, or irregular pulse
    • Feeling dizzy, confused, or delirious
    • Fainting
    • Having convulsions

How Is Heat-Related Illness Treated?

  • Remove your child from the heat, direct sun, or warm air that is causing the illness.
  • Give your child cold fluids, such as water, to drink to prevent dehydration. Infants can be given a children’s electrolyte solution.
  • Apply cool compresses on your child’s forehead, neck, and underarms.
  • Blow cool air onto your child’s skin with fans.
  • Give your child a bath in cool water to bring down body temperature. Make sure the water is not too cold.
  • Give your child over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to treat pain and fever. Do not give aspirin to a child with a fever. This can put your child at risk of a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

Call the doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • A fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Signs of dehydration (very dark or little urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness)
  • Increased tiredness or lack of energy
  • A fainting spell

How Is Heat-Related Illness Prevented?

You can do the following to prevent your child from getting heat-related illness:

  • Give your child plenty of fluids to drink.
  • Dress your child in appropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Have your child rest and take breaks during exercise or physical activity.

On hot days, also do the following:

  • Keep your child indoors or in shaded or cool areas.
  • Give your child more fluids than normal.
  • Spray cool water on your child to keep him or her cool.
  • Dress your child in fewer layers. Have your child wear a hat or a visor.

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