The Blog

Infection Prevention: A Contagious Issue

You are probably unaware that last week was International Infection Prevention Week. Unlike Bonfire Night or Christmas - this is generally not one for the calendar unless like me you happen to 'work in the industry'. The importance of infection and its impact on driving antibiotic resistance is however becoming more and more apparent. It's true that resistance occurs naturally - but the speed of this increasing resistance is ultimately man-made.

Treating infections means relying on antibiotics. Much of the evidence is based on hospital care where we see many infections of different kinds, but infections such as colds and influenza and urine and wound infections occur in all communities and settings. In fact the vast majority of prescriptions are written in community settings - so this is where we need to focus next. Preventing infection in the wider context is a societal responsibility, something that affects us all - not just something to be delegated to hospitals.

The need to get better at preventing infections is part of the global antibiotic resistance crisis and, like any global crisis, we need a global strategy. The WHO draft antimicrobial resistance strategy is a start, but does lack detail and focus on preventing infection in communities.

A global approach to reducing infection needs all the effort that would be applied to any other risk to population health to develop new and innovative ways to resolve the problem. World and health leaders have an important role in bringing us together from a political and strategic perspective, but all this will be pointless if we, the general public, do not shape our contribution and become involved in action closer to home.

Though plans and policy are vital, of equal importance is the funding and resource to put them into action. Public health services are perfectly placed to support reductions in infection but in England these will be subjected to £200m of cuts, providing further barriers to successful delivery of behaviour change. What we really need is for policy makers to step up to develop and implement a broad strategy that can reach everyone and span health and social care as well as public health.

Every health care role needs to include ways to improve and educate patients about how to prevent common infections and improve their health using the principles of 'making every contact count', (ref) to deliver sustained change. The sheer power of numbers within the health and social care workforce lends itself to being part of the solution, something we have yet to officially exploit. For example if every nurse took the opportunity to talk to two patients about infection and general health on their next shift millions of people would have the opportunity to be better informed by the end of the week.

Not everyone will listen or change their behaviour of course, but it's a start.

But this is not just a problem for health care. It is also a matter for education, a matter for industry and most importantly a matter for society as a whole. By taking definitive steps to improve infection prevention we can move closer to solving the problem - and further from the threat of antibiotic resistance.