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Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC, is a hospital epidemiologist and infection preventionist. During her work as an infection preventionist, she performed surveillance for infectious diseases, preparedness, and Ebola-response practices. She holds a doctorate in Biodefense from George Mason University where her research focuses on the role of infection prevention in facilitating global health security efforts. She is certified in Infection Control and has worked in both pediatric and adult acute care facilities.

Why You Should Be Celebrating International Infection Prevention Week

October 15-21, 2017 marks International Infection Prevention Week and while this may seem like a week where we rally around hand hygiene, it’s much bigger than that. Infection prevention goes beyond the nuances of hand hygiene and expands to almost every corner of medical care and healthcare. Whether it be a dental clinic, operating room, or even an outpatient treatment center, infection prevention plays a vital role in keeping patients and healthcare workers safe.
Not convinced? On any given day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 25 people in the United States will acquire a healthcare-associated infection (HAI). In a given year, it’s estimated that 722,000 HAIs occur, of which 25,000 of those patients die due to the infection. Realistically, it’s believed that the annual number of HAIs within the United States is closer to 2 million, which is astounding.
Although preventing HAIs are a big part of infection prevention, the scope is much larger and encompasses everything from sterilization and disinfection to communicable disease surveillance, reporting, education, and even construction risk assessments. Infection prevention doesn’t just focus on patients, but also healthcare workers and visitors, as the goal is to keep everyone safe and infection-free. Infection preventionists work closely with Occupational Health programs to ensure employee safety and if there is an exposure to a communicable disease—like tuberculosis or varicella—the infection prevention team works to ensure all staff and patients are aware of their exposure.

Consider the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Did you know that 60% of US hospitals reported that their infection prevention programs were responsible for hospital Ebola preparedness and response? Infection prevention programs are also increasingly responsible for emergency preparedness, whether it be an influx of infectious patients, an act of bioterrorism, or an outbreak of a high-consequence pathogen (like Ebola).
Most of us have been in a hospital at some point, whether as a patient, employee, or visiting a loved one. We all rely on strong infection prevention practices to keep us and our loved ones safe during medical care. We also rely on healthcare workers to follow infection prevention practices to rapidly isolate infectious patients and use the proper personal protective equipment to make sure that communicable diseases don’t spread within a community.

Infection prevention truly goes beyond the walls of a hospital or medical center. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that “breaches in infection control measures undermine every advance and investment in healthcare.” These practices have become increasingly important as we see the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases like Middle East respiratory syndrome, measles, pertussis, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Infection prevention efforts also play a vital role in the global issue of antimicrobial resistance. Proper isolation, disinfection, and antimicrobial stewardship are critical to reduce the incidence and spread of highly-resistant organisms, especially in hospitals, which can be amplifiers for the spread of these organisms.

Although these examples are just the tip of the iceberg, it is increasingly apparent that we all have a role in not only supporting infection prevention, but also partaking in it. Whether you’re a visitor, patient, or healthcare worker, infection prevention is everyone’s responsibility. 
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