Infection Control Surveillance: 2020 reflections

Infection control surveillance is the intentional and methodical documentation of infection occurrence within a facility, reviewed and reported back to the clinical team and management. Surveillance includes evidence of hospital-acquired infections (HAI), multi–drug resistant organisms, wound infections, and urinary tract, respiratory and skin infections. Documentation must be frequent and analysed for trends.

This all sounds very clinical, and it needs to be in an aged care facility, but many of us have been informally doing infection control surveillance all our lives.

Gastroenteritis

When my grandmother was younger, they often referred to gastro as ‘summer sickness’. Cases of gastro often surge with the summer heat, beginning with the seasonal foods we love, such as salads and meat. It also comes from non-bacterial causes such as norovirus, which is extremely infectious and can be difficult to contain and eliminate, even after deep cleaning has taken place. Gastro infection is particularly hard on the elderly and can have resurgences in the months following due to the activation of spores that remain on soft surfaces such as carpets.

Some of the simple and daily ways we can reduce the likelihood of outbreaks in our facilities is through the continued emphasis of standard precautions, correct hand hygiene processes, environmental cleaning, aseptic technique where appropriate, respiratory etiquette, and social distancing when symptomatic.

Influenza

The absolute decrease in influenza cases during the 2020 season here in NZ is due to a few factors. First of all, record numbers of flu vaccines have been administered (a reported 1 in 3 receiving a vaccine vs. 1 in 4 during the 2019 flu season). Also, infection control measures (standard and transmission precautions), as well as hygiene measures, combined with an increased awareness of social precautions such as distancing and isolating when symptomatic, have created real time gains for population health.

Clearly there are measurable ways to reduce the incidence and impact of infections in the community. But will these gains be short lived? We need to take what we have learned and apply the lived experience. One of the additional ways we can be sure we are catching illness early, stopping the spread of infection and maintaining our gains, is through surveillance.

Benefits of infection control surveillance

Evidence of infection reduction during periods of intentional surveillance, aptly termed “the surveillance effect”, was identified in this 2017 report on nosocomial infections.

Other benefits of surveillance include the reduction of hospital admissions/length of stay and the conservation of financial resources, particularly when the burden of disease in the ageing population is so great and our current healthcare systems are at capacity.

There are a number of ways to conduct surveillance, both conventionally and through the use of technologies such automated data collection and screening. Both are useful and important for facilities looking to reduce workload, improve health outcomes and increase productivity.

As we move towards COVID normal at the end of 2020, it’s important to take note of the benefits that social distancing and more stringent infection control measures and surveillance have brought. Continued vigilance and awareness of these differences in the future will result in fewer infections across aged care facilities and the community at large.

If you’d like to read more about infection control surveillance and how it can help reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in aged care, you should read this blog post.

Our Bug Control Infection Prevention and Control Manual provides helpful guidance to further your infection prevention and control surveillance of both residents and employees. If you would like to know more about our manual (available in a print or an online version with live updates), contact us today.

Further reading

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heic/infection_surveillance/#:~:text=To%20perform%20comprehensive%20surveillance%20for,associated%20infections%20and%20organism%20transmissions.

http://www.ijic.info/article/view/16200

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/121286312/flu-vaccine-2020-record-number-of-kiwis-get-jabs-twice-as-many-as-2019