Infection control

Allison Cartwright is our ECS Publications Officer. Ahead of our Early Career Scientist Research Symposium, she looks at the ways infection control has become part of our lives. 

As the SfAM ECS research symposium approaches, it seems wise to learn more about epidemiology and infection control before the event. Jennie French’s article in the latest Microbiologist magazine proved fascinating, especially on the concept of infection transfer:

“One person, patient zero, interacts with a disease reservoir, becomes ill and spreads the   disease to others around them”

This article was absorbed en route to work where I was confronted with a sick rabbit and two students informing me that Rodger was contagious to our other rabbits. While I’ve never thought in detail about infection control, some preventative actions seem almost second nature.


Bugs and bunnies

I immediately knew Rodger must be kept away from the other rabbits, so they didn’t also catch the sniffles. The students proceeded to don disposable aprons and gloves to lift our bunny so it could be administered antibiotics.

He was then returned to his quarters. Nearby surfaces were sterilised, protective clothing was binned and hands were scrubbed.

Since then, my mind had been focused on ‘everyday’ tasks that help prevent infection. Returning home, a lady on the train coughed. I glared at her. Why didn’t she cover her mouth? She turned her head away from her toddler, keen to keep him healthy, but what about the rest of us!


Off with the cough

Disgust at the lady’s behaviour prompted many thoughts. Most of us act in many ways to prevent infection – mainly learned from nagging parents; wash your hands before eating, cover your mouth when coughing, don’t play in dirty gutters, blow your nose – don’t sniff. Reducing the spread of infection is sewn into very fabric of our society.

The phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ may be ubiquitous, but it’s true, as hospitals are forced to adopt further measures to minimise nosocomial infections.

Hand sanitisers are found near every door, there’s always an option to place patients in isolation. Nanoparticles (consisting of a mixture of silver nitrate and titanium dioxide) are being used as a coating for surgeon’s masks due to their microbicidal properties. There’s literally a silver lining in their infection control.

surgical mask

Barking mad

Of course, there are infections requiring developed control methods. After being raised in Zimbabwe, the first virus to spring to mind is rabies. When we moved to Northern Ireland, our German Shepherd was quarantined for 6 months to ensure no diseases came with him.

In Zimbabwe a bite from a random dog leads to countless doctor appointments and painful daily injections for more than two weeks. In each of these injections the antibodies for rabies are introduced to the person’s body to prevent the development of the potentially fatal disease affecting the nerves and brain.


Bat business

In many countries, rabies is carried by a range of animals including dogs, foxes, racoons, and bats. Bats pose the only rabies risk to citizens of the UK and Ireland, but its prevalence is rare and you need direct contact with an infected bat. Undoubtedly, the screening of animals before introduction to the UK and Ireland has helped to keep it this way.

Rabies infections to a UK/ Irish citizens are likely contracted elsewhere. Due to the high fatality with this disease if untreated, a preventative course of vaccines is recommended before travel to a country with prevalence of rabies.


Dog’s life

As infection control is an ever-evolving area for research there are changes in the control and prevention of specific disease with medical advances. Our dog wouldn’t need a 6 month quarantine anymore.

In fact, he could now avoid quarantine altogether, as long as he was chipped, previously vaccinated against rabies and had a negative blood test on arrival. Partly due to better screening methods for disease and partly due to a change in policy to reflect the ever-advancing medicinal diagnosis that’s critical for infection control.

Allison Cartwright

The Early Career Scientists 7th Annual Research Symposium will be held at the University of Birmingham with a focus on Epidemiology and Infection Control.

It will also provide the chance to hear from Fin Twomey, Head of Animal Public Health at Defra and Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, our premier keynote speakers.

Categories: Feature Articles

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