Hand hygiene and mask wearing have been hot topics since COVID-19 became a concern in March 2020. Meanwhile, universal precautions can be used to prevent the spread of many other infections and diseases.
Universal precautions require that blood and other body fluids be treated as if they are infectious. Universal precautions include maintaining personal hygiene and using personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE include masks, gloves, face and eye protection and gowns. When you are close to or are handling, blood, bodily fluid, bodily tissue, mucous membranes, or an area of open skin, you must use PPE.
Transmission-based precautions are a step above universal/standard precautions and specify what PPE needs to be worn in certain circumstances including, but not limited to when coming into contact with infections or pathogens such as influenzas, MRSA, Hep B/C or chicken pox. In these circumstances, airborne, droplet or contact isolations precautions are used.
Transmission of infections can be direct and indirect. Direct contact-Infected blood or body fluid from one person enters another person’s body at a correct entry site (such as infected blood splashing in the eye, nose or mouth, or entering in open areas on ones’ skin). Although unbroken skin is a good barrier against blood borne pathogens, even the smallest cut, blister, blemish, or skin opening can admit pathogens. Indirect contact occurs when a person’s skin touches an object that contains the blood or body fluid of an infected person (such as picking up soiled dressings or touching surfaces contaminated with an infected person’s blood or body fluid on them and then touching an entry site on yourself).
The purpose of practicing universal precautions is twofold: universal precautions protect most people from further harm or infection, while simultaneously protecting the medical professional and others from transmitting or contracting a blood borne illness from an infected individual. With the public’s compliance during the Pandemic in wearing masks and gloves and the increased cleaning of shopping carts, door handles and gas pumps, certain airborne, droplet and contact illnesses have been decreased in number. So, it is important for everyone to keep using universal precautions as needed in the future.
Terri Hoschar BSN, RN, is a Public Health Nurse at the Meigs County Health Department.