3 Sanitization Tips for Nurses Working with Highly Contagious Patients
As a nurse, you are on the frontline when it comes to dealing with all sorts of infectious diseases including, of course, COVID-19. You spend your shift working closely with the public to provide education, treat illnesses and more. Unfortunately, delivering high-quality care to sick patients puts you at risk of becoming sick yourself or transferring harmful germs and bacteria to other patients, employees or your own family.
While sanitation is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now due to the ongoing pandemic, it is something that always needs to be taken seriously. The field of nursing has come a long way over the past few decades in terms of cleanliness and risk reduction. You already possess a great deal of knowledge about how to avoid transferring infectious pathogens, but it never hurts to refresh your knowledge. Keep reading to discover a few practical sanitization tips for nurses working with highly contagious patients.
Use the Appropriate PPE
PPE, or personal protective equipment, is vital when working with infectious patients. It includes things like gloves, gowns, aprons, masks, respirators, goggles and face shields. This equipment is intended to protect nurses and other medical personnel while helping to prevent the spread of pathogens.
Ideally, you should don the appropriate PPE before working with a patient and then remove it immediately after. In times when PPE is scarce, though, you may need to continue wearing or wash and reuse your equipment. Masks and N95 respirators can be worn continuously until they become visibly soiled or difficult to breathe through. When not in use, they should be stored in clean, breathable containers or paper bags. If the facility where you work is experiencing a shortage, follow their guidelines or educate yourself on how to safely reuse PPE.
Take Care of Your Scrubs
The scrubs you wear to work are exposed to a lot of bacteria throughout your shift. While you should be taking steps to properly sanitize your clothing after every shift, doing so is even more important during a pandemic.
If you have cotton scrubs, start by turning them inside out and washing in cold water. Add ½ cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to soften the fabric without the use of liquid fabric softeners. Cotton-polyester blend scrubs should be washed in warm water. Cotton scrubs should be dried on the lowest heat setting, while cotton-poly blends can withstand a regular heat setting.
To further disinfect your scrubs, you may want to use a laundry additive to fight bacteria. There are special products out there that are formulated for this exact purpose and do a great job of eliminating bacteria and protecting fabric. If you have white cotton scrubs, adding chlorine bleach to the wash cycle works, too. Keep in mind, though, that it should never be applied directly to clothing. Instead, it needs to be poured into your washer’s bleach dispenser or diluted with water.
Color-safe oxygen-based bleach products do not provide disinfectant qualities. If you need to disinfect colored scrubs and fabrics other than cotton, adding a pine oil disinfectant–such as Pine-Sol–to a warm wash cycle does the trick. Pay attention to the product label, though. The product needs to contain at least 80 percent pine oil to be effective. Products like Lysol will do the job, too, and can be added to a warm wash or rinse cycle.
When washing nursing jackets and scrubs, always take the time to check the label. The tips listed above are generally safe guidelines, but it’s always smart to check the washing and drying instructions on a specific garment prior to laundering.
Don’t Forget About Your Shoes!
While every nurse remembers to wash their scrubs, it’s much easier to forget about things like sanitizing your shoes. Think about it, though. You spend your entire shift walking around on floors that could be contaminated with all sorts of things. The floors in medical facilities are cleaned regularly, of course, but they can’t be cleaned every single time someone coughs, sneezes, etc. As a result, you likely step in all kinds of nasty germs, viruses and bacteria.
Ideally, you should put your nursing shoes on when you get to work and take them off at the end of your shift. Keep them in a bag in the trunk of your car when you aren’t working to prevent bringing germs and other nasty things into your home.
It’s also smart to disinfect your nursing shoes regularly. Use warm water and laundry detergent to clean the insoles and then hang to dry. You may also be able to wash your shoes in your washing machine.
Rubbing alcohol, disinfectant sprays or a mixture of bleach and water can be used to eliminate germs, too. Figure out which method you prefer and use it regularly to prevent your shoes from becoming a petri dish!
The Bottom Line
As a nurse, you know that it’s important to protect yourself when working with contagious patients. Sometimes, though, it never hurts to take further precautions to ensure that your clothing, shoes and equipment are properly sterilized. At the end of an exhausting shift, it’s easy to slack off a bit on your sanitation protocols. Remember, though, that doing so could result in you or your family members becoming ill.
Proper sanitation is vital for anyone who works in the healthcare industry. It is often most crucial, however, for nurses because they are the people who spend the most time working in close contact with contagious patients.
Whether it’s during a pandemic or normal conditions, following the sanitization tips above will help you prevent the spread of nasty pathogens and protect yourself and others from potentially deadly illnesses.