What is Infection Control in Care Homes?

When it comes to infection, elderly people and other care home residents are high-risk groups. This means that, if they catch an infection, they’re more likely to experience severe symptoms.

This isn’t the only reason why infections are a major concern in care homes. Infections can easily spread in any setting where people share facilities. Plus, given how vulnerable residents are to infection, any outbreak is likely to lead to mass hospitalisation. The health service is already overburdened and facing a serious backlog. An outbreak in a care home could place further strain on a system that already seems stretched to breaking point.

What is Infection Control in Care Homes?

Infection control in care homes means taking the time to understand the common infections, and how they’re spread, before acting to prevent this spread as much as possible. In this post, we’ll explore some of the key principles of infection control in care homes.

What Are The Most Common Infections in Care Homes?

The most common infections in care homes include:

  • Flus and colds
  • Norovirus and other stomach bugs
  • Salmonella

And of course, care homes must now contend with seasonal variants of Covid-19. Care homes were hit particularly hard throughout the 2020 pandemic. And though the latest variants are not as deadly as the initial few, they still present a significant risk to care home residents.

Read our full guide to common infections in care homes. This guide also explores, in greater depth, the link between care home outbreaks and hospital bed shortages.

An Essential Introduction to Infection Control in Care Homes

Infection control in care homes begins with understanding the common infections and their symptoms. Some care home residents may be unable to communicate that they’re feeling bad. Others might be unwilling to discuss their health, as they might not want to make a fuss. It might be up to you and your staff to spot infections, and to act accordingly.

So look out for some key symptoms of the most common care home infections:

  • Coughs, sneezes, and runny noses.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Irritated eyes.
  • Skin conditions, including rashes and blisters.
  • Vomiting and nausea.
  • Shivering (which could indicate a fever).
  • Loss of appetite and low energy levels.

Invest in Staff Training

Every member of staff should be able to spot the signs of infection. They should also have a thorough understanding of how infections spread, as this will help them adopt measures that can help prevent the spread.

In short, coughs and sneezes spread infections directly. But infectious diseases can also spread in indirect ways – such as when two residents use the same utensil, or item of furniture. Read our full guide to how communicable diseases spread.

Infection Control Policies and Procedures

Your care home should have dedicated policies and procedures in place for managing infections. These should be in writing, and they should be reviewed routinely, and easily accessible to all members of staff.

Here are some things you should include in your infection control policies and procedures:

  • Reporting – If a member of staff suspects they’ve spotted an infection, what immediate action should they take? Who should they report to, and what can they do in the short-term to reduce the risk of cross-infection?
  • Cleaning – As viruses and bacteria can linger on surfaces for hours, stringent cleaning procedures are an essential part of infection control in care homes. Your policy should outline the specific cleaning procedures for every area of your care home, paying particular attention to any area where residents gather and share facilities, and any area where food’s prepared and served.
  • Zoning – You may have to isolate any residents who catch an infection, to reduce the risks of cross-infection. Your policy should outline how you manage this process. How will you inform the resident? How will you continue to deliver the same quality of care during their quarantine? And how will you inform their friends and relatives?
  • Personal protection equipment (PPE) – Your policy should outline what sort of PPE your staff wear, and when they wear it. It should also define procedures for storing PPE, and for both applying it and taking it off to reduce the risk of cross-infection. Read our introduction to appropriate PPE use.

Hand Hygiene and Cough & Sneeze Etiquette

Finally, there are two strategies that both staff and residents can adopt to prevent and control infections in care homes:

  • Hand Hygiene – Staff should thoroughly wash their hands at numerous key points: before interacting with a resident, after interacting with a resident, and after handling any potentially contaminated items. Residents too can be encouraged to wash their hands as often as possible, including before meals and after using the toilet.
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette – Staff should encourage residents to cover their noses and mouths whenever they need to sneeze or cough. You could provide ample tissues, with lots of bins so that residents can “catch it, bin it, kill it.” And of course, you should encourage residents to wash their hands immediately after coughing or sneezing.

Support For Infection Control in Care Homes

At Cairn Technology, we specialise in supporting healthcare settings, including care homes, deliver effective infection prevention and control policies.

Here’s how we can help you stop the spread of infectious diseases in your care home:

Want to talk about how we can help prevent infections and improve the air quality in your care home? Get in touch to talk to one of our infection control experts today.