We are all aware that the development of modern medicines and healthcare can move at a fast pace. In the last few weeks alone we have seen the launch of robotic assisted surgery for patients with prostate cancer. This pioneering service is currently being offered at the Western General Hospital. However, some things in healthcare don’t change. Hand washing is still an important part of preventing infections from spreading at home, at work and in the wider community, as well as in our hospitals.
People of a certain age will probably remember the 1946 public information film Coughs and Sneezes, Spreads Diseases which advocated using a handkerchief when coughing and sneezing to stop the spread of germs to others. This is still as relevant today, especially as we head into winter.
Our modern message is to “catch it, bin it, kill it”, using a disposable tissue to cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and throw it in the bin before washing your hands. Other than having your flu vaccine, these simple steps are the most important way of limiting the spread of flu and colds.
Regular and effective hand hygiene is also a very important way to prevent the spread of Norovirus, sometimes known as the winter vomiting bug. This virus is the most common cause of stomach bugs in the UK and can affect people of all ages. It is highly contagious and is easily spread from person to person. EastEnders viewers will know that poor Whitney was devastated when Bianca and other guests couldn’t attend her recent wedding, as they were all laid up with Norovirus.
Washing and drying hands will greatly reduce the risk of spreading Norovirus, particularly when preparing food, before eating and drinking and after using the toilet.
Norovirus and other common infections can have a really big effect on individuals and the wider community. Being unwell and having time off work or school is unpleasant and inconvenient. However, there can be a much bigger impact on those who might also be carers for the very young, the elderly or for people who are more vulnerable to infection. Older people and those with other chronic or serious illnesses can experience more severe symptoms of flu or Norovirus.
Nobody wants to be unwell, particularly at this busy time of the year. Remember one of the easiest ways to help keep yourself and your family well this winter is to wash your hands properly and regularly with soap and warm water. That way you can enjoy the festive season and won’t have to miss out on any special occasions.
Lindsay Guthrie is Lead Infection Prevention and Control Nurse at NHS Lothian