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How to Prevent Infectious Disease in the Workplace

Germs are a part of day-to-day life and are all around us in the soil, air and in your body. While some pathogens can be helpful, others aren’t. Many live on and in your body without causing harm, and some may even help you stay healthy. Others, however, can cause an infection that can spread around the workplace.

How Do Infectious Diseases Spread at Work?

There are various ways infectious diseases can spread throughout the workplace.

1. Contact Transmission

Direct contact is a common way infectious diseases can spread. Types of direct contact may include the following.

  • Contact between people: When an infected individual exchanges body fluids with or touches other people, transmission occurs, often before the infected person even knows they are sick.
  • Droplet spread: During sneezing and coughing, the spray of droplets can spread an infectious disease. When you speak, you can infect another individual through droplets. This form of transmission occurs through proximity, since droplets will fall to the floor within a few feet.

2. Airborne Transmission — Ventilation

When residue from evaporated droplets or droplets that contain microorganisms remain suspended in the air for a long time, pathogens can spread.

Ten of 40 reviewed studies have proven a conclusive link between the transmission of airborne infection and building ventilation. There’s sufficient and strong evidence demonstrating the link between:

  • Air movements in buildings
  • Ventilation
  • Spread/transmission of infectious diseases like chickenpox, measles, SARS, tuberculosis and smallpox

3. Hazardous Materials

Typical sources of biohazardous contagious agents include:

  • Health care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Veterinary practices
  • Laboratories
  • Research facilities

Employees in these places don’t typically know which fluids or tissues contain harmful organisms. Because of this, the employees should assume every sample is hazardous and use adequate protection all the time. Employees in fishery, agriculture and other industries that process animal-based or raw plant materials might also be at risk.

4. Foodborne Illnesses

You’ll encounter various foods and food preparations when you visit other countries. But, these new foods could also come with bacteria, parasites or viruses, resulting in foodborne illnesses among travelers.

Also, safety and hygiene practices for water and food might be different in other countries than where you live.

5. Workplace Hygiene

Employees can become exposed to infections, germs and infestation in numerous ways, depending on the type of work they perform. A common way to transmit infections is through poor hygiene practices.

What Are Common Diseases Spread at Work?

The common types of diseases spread throughout the workplace include the following.

1. Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of lung infection or pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria could also lead to a less severe condition known as Pontiac fever.

Once Legionella starts growing and multiplying in a building water system, the Legionella-containing water then needs to spread in small enough droplets for individuals to breathe in. Individuals can get Pontiac fever or Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe the small water droplets in the air containing the bacteria.

2. Respiratory Health Issues

When breathing, you take oxygen into your lungs from the air. This oxygen then enters your bloodstream, where your body’s cells use it to grow and work. You breathe around 25,000 times during a normal day. Individuals with lung disease have trouble breathing. Millions of individuals in the United States have lung disease. If we combine all lung disease types, it’s the third leading killer in the U.S.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma are substantial public health burdens.

3. Bloodborne Infectious Diseases

Exposures to body fluids and blood occur in many occupations. Public safety personnel, emergency response and health care workers are some that could become exposed to blood through things like:

  • Sharps injuries
  • Needlestick
  • Skin exposures
  • Mucous membrane

The pathogens of main concern are the hepatitis B virus (HBV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Employers and employees should take advantage of work practices and engineering controls to prevent exposure to body fluids and blood.

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV): HBV can lead to severe liver damage and death. The risk of getting an HBV infection from a sharps injury is between 6 and 30%, according to CDC estimates.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): HIV disables your immune system until it can no longer fight infection. CDC estimates show 0.3%, or one in 300, HIV infection risk from a sharps injury.
  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV): HCV causes severe liver damage and can be fatal. You can experience an infection with only mild symptoms or none at all. Baby boomers in the U.S. have the highest prevalence, and it kills more of this age cohort than 60 other types of infectious diseases combined.

4. Vector-Borne Pathogens

Pretty much everyone has gotten bitten by a flea, mosquito or tick. Mosquitoes, fleas and ticks are vectors that spread pathogens. Those who get sick from a bug bite have what’s known as a vector-borne disease. Bubonic plague and other vector-borne diseases have been around for a very long time — thousands of years. Researchers have recently discovered others, such as Bourbon virus disease and Heartland virus disease.

How to Prevent the Spread of Infectious Diseases at Work

There are ways to prevent Legionnaires’ disease and other infectious diseases in the workplace, including the following.

  1. Engineering controls: Engineering controls protect employees from hazards in the workplace. They reduce or remove a hazard or act as a barrier between employees and the hazard. Maintaining proper building humidity and temperature can decrease the risk of many diseases. Agents require moisture to live. You can help prevent the growth of molds and fungus in the building by keeping the humidity under 60%.
  2. Administrative controls: Measures of workplace and administrative control have the most significant effect on preventing the transmission of infectious disease. They are the first line of defense to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in health care settings. Change the way you organize specific jobs to decrease employees’ exposure to infectious agents. For instance, limiting the number of employees who come into contact with or care for an infectious patient decrease the number of exposed employees.
  3. Vaccinations: Vaccinating employees can help block the spread of different diseases. Depending on what type of workplace it is, the employer should pay for or provide vaccinations for different disease the employees might get exposed to.
  4. Protective equipment: With any hazard, masks, gloves and other protective clothing are other forms of defense. If you don’t take any other protective measure, employees don’t have any barriers if the equipment fails, breaks or doesn’t fit for any reason. In certain circumstances, there isn’t any way of protecting against infections like wearing gloves when you handle body fluids or blood. You must select approved respirators based on the hazards employees might get exposed to.
  5. Workplace hygiene: Infection control measures that relate to proper personal hygiene include wearing gloves if you’re handling equipment containing bodily fluids. You should always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for a minimum of 15 seconds after you prepare food, use the toilet and touch equipment or clients. Also, avoid sharing clothing, towels, razors, shavers, toothbrushes or other personal items.
  6. Workplace audit: You can do this by employing better workplace inspections. A workplace audit tool, such as quality workplace inspections, can help reduce the spread of infectious disease.
  7. Consultancy: When multiple employees report the same disease or symptoms in a short period, your company might require an investigation. For this, you’ll want to hire a consultant. During an investigation for an environmental-related disease, professionals evaluate various factors to determine the source of the disease.

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