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An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure
Publish date: Jun 3, 2009
Summary: Can anything be done to prevent common illnesses?
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A recent study found that preventable medical errors cause between 9000 and 24,000 deaths in Canada each year. These errors included health-care providers giving patients the wrong or too much medication, leaving a sponge in a patient, operating on the wrong limb, injuring a baby during delivery, or patients contracting an infection after surgery.
As well, it seems that medication records are not often put into the hospital charts. The means that medications may then be missed that should be continued and others are started that may conflict with existing medications.
Infections and Hand washing
Hospital infections are another huge problem. You may know of someone in the hospital who has ended up with a Staphylococcus Auretus, a “hospital bug” that may have caused serious infection and even death. These preventable surgical site infections cost hospitals millions of dollars.
Another common bug that easily infects people weakened by illness is Enterococcus, a normally benign bacterium that lives in the intestine. Enterococcus infections can occur in the urinary tract, in blood, and in wounds, including surgical wounds.
Pseudomonas Aeruginosais notorious for its resistance to antibiotics and is, therefore, a particularly dangerous and dreaded pathogen and is spread from patient to patient on the hands of hospital personnel, by direct patient contact with contaminated items, and by the ingestion of contaminated foods and water.
A CBC-TV Marketplace investigation into the cause and effect of these “super bugs” included and interview of a physician in charge of infection control at a leading Canadian hospital. He stated that simple hand washing could prevent most of the deaths caused by these infections.
Because of the SARS outbreak that hit Toronto in March 2003, hand sanitizers have become common in Canadian hospitals and other public buildings across the country. However, it has been found that many employees clean their hands only 10–20% of the time.
The infection control expert at the University Health Network in Toronto says that doctors are the least likely to wash their hands. He stated that when he was a medical resident, nobody taught him how to wash his hands or told him it was important. He would happily visit 30 patients and not wash his hands once because that was the norm.
Washing hands and anything else that comes into contact with an infected person is important in preventing the spread of bacteria. Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to help stop the spread of germs that cause illnesses such as colds, the flu, diarrhea, or vomiting.
We pick up these germs on our hands from touching things around us such as people, animals, raw flesh foods, pets, and many other objects in our daily lives. It is especially important to therefore wash our hands before we prepare or eat food or feed a baby or child. In addition, it is necessary to wash your hands after you change a diaper, help a child use the toilet or use the toilet yourself, blow your nose, take care of a sick person, touch pets or animals, and clean pet cages or litter boxes.
E. coli: a Deadly Bacteria
In May 2000, seven people died and more than 2,300 others fell ill in Walkerton, Ontario, in Canada’s worst-ever E. coli outbreak after the bacteria got into the town’s water supply. The source of the contamination was manure spread on a farmer’s field near one of the town’s wells.
E. coli, short for Eschericia coli, is a type of bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. E. coli has been identified as the most dangerous to people, producing a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and death.
It is most often found in meat, but also in unpasteurized milk and apple cider, raw vegetables, cheese, and contaminated water. Fruits and vegetables that grow close to the ground are also susceptible to E. coli contamination if, for example, improperly composited cattle manure is used as a fertilizer.
Once someone has eaten contaminated food, the infection can be passed person-to-person, by hand-to-mouth contact. Proper food handling techniques and safe water supplies can go a long way towards preventing exposure to E. coli. Good personal hygiene such as washing your hands thoroughly and not handling food if you have diarrhea are critical in protecting yourself and others.
According to the British Columbia Ministry of Health, Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu or winter vomiting disease. This is not actually influenza or the flu, which is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus.
Stomach flu outbreaks occur in communities every year and are common in nursing homes, daycare centres, schools, children’s camps, and on cruise ships. The Ministry explains that the key to preventing the virus or reducing it from spreading is hand washing, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
Proper hand washing requires warm running water, soap, and cleansing of the hands for 15 to 30 seconds. In addition, you can reduce the risk of infection by disinfecting any areas that need cleaning due to vomit or diarrhea
Flu pandemics happen when a new kind of influenza virus that is able to spread easily from person to person appears, and spreads quickly around the world. There were three flu pandemics last century and the most severe, often called the Spanish Flu pandemic, was in 1918. Throughout history, every new flu strain has been scary because it catches the human immune system unprepared. The death toll from a new flu always seems to be higher.
Even though a flu pandemic cannot be prevented, we can prepare for one by learning how we can keep ourselves healthy in diet and exercise. We need to also practice basic hygiene techniques now, such as regular hand washing and covering our mouths with a tissue when sneezing and coughing.
We know that germs and viruses are lurking all around us, but if we do our best in obeying some of the simple laws of health and practicing sensible cleanliness, we may be preserved from many afflicting diseases.
Updated November 2009.
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