Category Archives: Prevention

National Lightning Safety Awareness Week

“When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

That’s the National Weather Service’s way saying that we must take thunderstorms and the lightning that accompanies them seriously. During this Lightning Safety Awareness Week, which runs June 18-24, take time to learn what to do — and not to do — when thunderstorms threaten.

Lightning ranks among the top storm-related killers in the United States. About two-thirds of lightning-related deaths are associated with outdoor recreational activities. Although lightning injuries and fatalities can occur during any time of the year, deaths caused by lightning are highest during the summer. Generally, July is the month when lightning is most active.

Seek shelter if you’re outside

It is critical to know what to do when thunderstorms head your way. If the forecast calls for thunderstorms, postpone outdoor plans or make sure adequate safe shelter is readily available.

When you hear thunder, go inside. You are not safe anywhere outside. Do not seek shelter under trees. Instead, run to a safe building or vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning or observe dark, threatening clouds developing overhead. Safe shelters include homes, offices, shopping centers, and hard-top vehicles with the windows rolled up. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.

If you can’t make it inside or in a vehicle, take these precautions:

  • Avoid open fields, the top of a hill or a ridge top.
  • Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects.
  • If you are camping in an open area, set up camp in a valley, ravine or other low area. Tents do not protect you from lightning.
  • Stay away from water, wet items and metal objects (such as fences and poles). Electricity easily passes through water and metal.

Protect yourself while inside

If you are indoors, be aware that although your home is a safe shelter during a lightning storm, you might still be at risk. About one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors.  When inside:

  • Avoid contact with corded phones, computers, laptops, game systems, washers, dryers or anything connected to an electrical outlet. Lightning can travel through electrical systems.
  • Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry. Lightning can travel through a building’s plumbing.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors and do not lean against concrete walls. Lightning also can travel through metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
  • Unplug electrical equipment.

For more information on thunderstorms and lightning safety, visit the following links:

www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/safety-overview.shtml

cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/index.html

 lightning.org/lsa-week/

Practice sun safety to help avoid skin cancer

As enjoyable as it is to have fun in the sun, it’s important to protect your skin in the midst of that good time.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website that in order to lower your skin cancer risk, you should protect your skin from the sun and avoid indoor tanning.

Here are some safety tips the CDC recommends:

Check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index before you spend time outdoors. Plan your sun protection accordingly, using these tips:

  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100 percent of UV rays as possible.
  • Use sunscreen with “broad spectrum protection” and a sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

A few facts about skin cancer

  • The sun’s UV rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. That said, it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.
  • It’s not about the temperature. Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection from UV rays.
  • Tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside—whether sunburn or suntan—indicates damage from UV rays.
  • Indoor tanning exposes users to both UVA and UVB rays, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer.
  • The most common sign of skin cancer is a change in your skin, such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in a mole.

Visit the CDC website to find more information on skin cancer awareness.

It is getting hotter; take steps to avoid heatstroke

As the weather gets warmer, DHEC warns you to take precautions to avoid heatstroke.

While going about your daily activities — whether exercising or simply traveling to the grocery store to shop — be sure to protect yourself and others from possible heatstroke. It’s not safe to leave a person in a parked car in warm or hot weather, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in shade. It is important to note that children’s body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult’s.

Heatstroke requires emergency treatment

Untreated heatstroke can cause damage to your body, especially your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage gets worse the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.

If you think a person may be experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency services number. Take steps cool the overheated person while waiting for emergency treatment.

  • Get the person into shade or indoors.
  • Remove excess clothing.
  • Cool the person with whatever means available — put them in a cool tub of water or a cool shower, spray them with a garden hose, sponge them with cool water, fan them while misting them with cool water, or place ice packs or cold, wet towels on their head, neck, armpits and groin.

Heatstroke symptoms include:

  • High body temperature: 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior: Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, etc.
  • Alteration in sweating: Heatstroke brought on by hot weather can cause skin to feel hot and dry to the touch. Heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise causes skin may feel moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Flushed skin.
  • Rapid breathing.
  •  Racing heart rate.
  •  Headache.

Heatstroke is predictable and preventable

Take these steps to prevent heatstroke:

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
  • Protect against sunburn: Protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated.
  • Never leave anyone in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 degrees F (more than 6.7 C) in 10 minutes.
  • Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Get acclimated. Limit the amount of time spent working or exercising in heat until you’re conditioned to it. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust.
  • Be cautious if you’re at increased risk. If you take medications or have a condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating. If you participate in a strenuous sporting event or activity in hot weather, make sure there are medical services available in case of a heat emergency.

World Hand Hygiene Day is May 5

Natasha Wright, RN, MSN
DHEC HAI Nurse Consultant

While there won’t be a cake with several tiers, beautiful gowns or champagne toasts, hand hygiene is definitely a subject worthy of its own day to “celebrate.”

In the pursuit of preventing all healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) urge all health care facilities and organizations to join us in highlighting the single most important practice supported by evidence in helping eliminate cross-contamination and reduce HAIs—proper and thorough hand hygiene2.

Up to 70 percent of HAIs that occur yearly could be prevented if health care workers follow recommended protocols, which include proper hand washing3. Even with all of the evidence of its effectiveness and emphasis placed on the importance of hand cleanliness, a 2010 study that examined research on global practices found that only roughly 40 percent of health care workers comply with recommended hand washing guidelines3.

A Few (Not-So-Fun) Facts:

  1. Studies show that some health care providers practice hand hygiene less than half of the times they should. Health care providers might need to clean their hands as many as 100 times per 12-hour shift, depending on the number of patients and intensity of care. Know what it could take to keep your patients safe1.
  2. On any given day, about 1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Many germs that cause these infections are spread from patient to patient on the hands of health care providers1.
  3. There are three areas most often missed by health care providers when using alcohol-based hand sanitizer: thumbs, fingertips and between fingers1.
  4. A few barriers to completely following recommended guidelines are3:
  • Inconvenient placement of sinks and/or hand sanitizer dispensers, or empty soap or sanitizer dispensers;
  • Health care workers concerned about drying out their skin;
  • Overlooking hand cleanliness due to the workload of a health care worker and/or a chaotic environment;
  • The belief that wearing gloves when providing care is sufficient in preventing the spread of germs.

Hand Sanitizer or Soap and Water1?

  1. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the preferred method for cleaning your hands when they are not visibly dirty because it:
  • Is more effective at killing potentially deadly germs on hands than soap;
  • Requires less time;
  • Is more accessible than hand washing sinks;
  • Reduces bacterial counts on hands;
  • Improves skin condition with less irritation and dryness than soap and water.
  1. Use soap and water when hands are visibly soiled and/or when working with a patient or an environment in which you may come into contact with contaminants.
  2. Although the amount of time for proper hand washing with soap and water varies from 15 seconds to 30 seconds (depending on the study), hands should be vigorously scrubbed for a minimum of 15 seconds.
  3. Remember “My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene”4:
  • Before touching a patient;
  • Before clean/aseptic procedures;
  • After body fluid exposure/risk;
  • After touching a patient;
  • After touching a patient’s surroundings.

Still Room for Improvement

In a world where health care is continuously changing, one thing has remained constant—routine and thorough hand washing is essential for preventing the spread of germs (including the increasing threat of those resistant to antibiotics) and the development of HAIs in patients. While the health care field is far from the days when gloves were barely worn and hand hygiene was an afterthought, we are not at 100 percent compliance in our facilities. Whether it is through the use of the traditional soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, proper handwashing must continue to be highlighted and emphasized by all champions of infection prevention because it is one practice that will remain constant for years to come.

Useful Resources for World Hand Hygiene Day

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Clean Hands Count Campaign

cdc.gov/handhygiene/index.html

World Health Organization (WHO) Save Lives: Clean Your Hands Campaign

Theme for 2017–Fight antibiotic resistance – it’s in your hands

who.int/gpsc/5may/en/

 References:

  1. CDC. (2016). Show Me the Science. cdc.gov/handhygiene/science/index.html
  2. Infection Control Today. (2017). infectioncontroltoday.com/topics/hand-hygiene.aspx
  3. Saint, S. (2016). Hand washing stops infections, so why do health care workers skip it? theconversation.com/hand-washing-stops-infections-so-why-do-health-care-workers-skip-it-58763
  4. WHO. (2017). My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene. who.int/gpsc/5may/background/5moments/en/

Pledge to keep your body, heart and brain healthy

DHEC is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association South Carolina Chapter, The American Heart Association and Eat Smart Move More South Carolina to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and brain health.

Protect your body, heart and brain

DHEC and its partners will collaborate on a campaign that encourages people to Take Brain Health to Heart. A key element of the effort is a pledge — which can be found at www.scdhec.gov/brainhealthpledge — that encourages residents to keep their body, heart and brain healthy.

The campaign is designed to educate and mobilize South Carolinians to protect their brain health by being more active, eating better and taking other steps. Research has shown that smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes may contribute to cognitive decline. It has also found that unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity and brain injury may affect the health of the brain.

Message key for S.C.’s aging population

This is an important message in South Carolina, whose population is getting older. While Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging, getting older is the greatest risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, 84,000 people over the age of 65 are reported to be living with Alzheimer’s disease in South Carolina.  By 2025, that number is expected to grow to 120,000, according to the SC Alzheimer’s disease registry report. South Carolina has one of the fastest-aging adult populations in the country, ranking in the top 10. That population is expected to increase to 1.1 million by 2029, resulting in one in five South Carolinians being over age 65.

South Carolina is one of seven states to receive funding to reduce stigma, promote early diagnosis and address risk reduction factors associated with cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The effort is funded by a collaborative that includes the Alzheimer’s Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Take the pledge

Over the next few months, DHEC, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Heart Association and Eat Smart Move More will jointly focus on messaging regarding heart and brain health and cognitive decline.

The campaign will feature a centralized DHEC Brain Health webpage. Each partner organization will have a link to the page, which will include health education materials, social media messages and a call to action in the form of a pledge about healthy lifestyle changes. People who visit the page and take the pledge will be entered into a monthly drawing for a Fitbit, beginning this month and ending June 30. Please visit the webpage at www.scdhec.gov/brainhealth and take the pledge.