“Crying swine” was a good way to check up on infection control processes

I am over the swine flu - not in the sense that I am "recovering" from the illness, but that I am done worrying about it. After reading news articles claiming U.S. medical officials "cried swine" and that the outbreak may have been overblown - I whole-heartedly agree.

The outbreak of the H1N1 flu was something to take notice of, but it certainly was not something worthy of a mass panic. In the U.S., death from the swine flu has been a rarity. In most cases, it was nothing more than a case of the regular flu - not something to cause chaos in the lives of medical professionals.

Yet, most hospital staff members have been crazy-busy these last few weeks attending meetings to prepare and plan for what to do if the outbreak gets worse, how to handle the supply of infection control products so that masks, gloves, antiseptic, etc. is not misused or wasted and so on. Infection control directors have been tirelessly ensuring the facility’s processes are in place to safeguard against a swine flu outbreak, and be prepared in the case a crisis truly ensues.

Recently, I met with an infection control director at a large area hospital. She had been running in and out of meetings to discuss the practices the hospital had in place to prevent against the swine flu, and how to handle it if a pandemic broke out. She said while a true outbreak had not occurred, at least now the hospital was ready if it ever did, and knew how to handle the situation.

She told me routine infection-prevention practices, such as sterilizing instruments, are so extremely important in the process of infection prevention, but often go underappreciated. The process is complex and time-consuming, and yet, many surgical professionals take having sterilized, safe instruments for granted.

As the infection control director discussed how the surgeon, circulating nurse and other staff members can be held personally liable if an infection occurs in a surgical patient, it was interesting to me how this process can often be overlooked. It is an immense amount of responsibility to hold, knowing that that potentially the patient’s life, as well as the staff member’s job depends on processes like instrument sterilization being adequately in place to prevent infections. Maybe it is something worth a little more attention?

In all likelihood, a true swine flu pandemic will not live up to its hype. However, the hours planning at nearly every hospital in the country were worth it by reminding surgical professionals of best-practice efforts that might go unnoticed during the regular buzz of the day in the OR - washing hands regularly using hand sanitizer whenever possible, making sure instrument sterilization processes are adequate and uniform, and that surgical technique is not facilitating an infection two or three days into post-op.

While it just seems to have caused a great deal of needless panic among the general public, "crying swine" was a good way to check up on infection control processes and ensure that even if the swine flu never culminates to more than an overblown worry, the hospital and its OR will be at-the-ready to handle anything that comes its way.

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