It’s been a very hard week for Ottawa, Canada germ-wise.  Two major stories have surfaced that show just how problematic germs can be and just how important it is to pay attention to our corporeal ecology.  And I’m not talking colds and flu here…in these cases, the germs of concern are some of the big guns.

The first problem happened in the midst of some very troubling overcrowding issues at the Ottawa Hospital.  Normally, during this time, it’s not unusual to see some overcrowding but in the last few weeks, the problems have been dramatic.  What everyone feared was that infections commonly associated with hospitals and the community would take hold and cause outbreaks.  And that’s exactly what happened.  The situation got so bad that the hospital brought in visitor restrictions not seen since the days of SARS.  What’s worse is that the hospital is facing not just one bug, but three…the big three:  MRSA, VRE and C. difficile.  Outbreaks are difficult to stop when there is only one bug at cause…one can only imagine the stress and frustration that must be happening at this time.

My heart really does go out to the healthcare workers…primarily because these outbreaks may have little to do with their actions.

Community-introduced hospital infections have always been the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to infections in the hospital but in so many ways, it’s very difficult to control how people act and live outside of the hospital walls.  Without a proper visitor registration and preparation section, which is completely infeasible in this age of cost cutting and best practices, there is really no way to stop infections from coming into the hospital from outside.  And I appreciate that there are hand sanitizer and mask dispensers at the entrance but as a person who walks into one of the hospitals practically every weekday morning, I can tell you that many either ignore or worse, avoid them.

Do I have an answer?  Yes.  Stay healthy, hygienic and if you think you might have any kind of infection, cover up with a mask and keep your hands clean!  Also, share this blog with everyone you know and get them to pay closer attention to their hygiene at least inside the hospital…if not at all times.

Most of the time my blog is more a commentary to provide perspective but this time, I honestly hope that people will change.  There are too many lives at risk, forget the fact that we are so close to Christmas.  And while I hope not to cause any fear, just remember one thing:  things could get much worse.  While there are already three bugs in the hospital, there is at least one more that could rise up without much notice and cause an even worse situation…and it’s a purely community infection:  norovirus.

The second troubling story was the re-emergence of a vaccine-preventable disease, measles.  While one case was caused as a result of international travel, the second was more disturbingly associated with human to human transmission.

I would very much recommend to everyone to take a look at their vaccination record and make sure that they are up to date.  I know when something like this happened a few years ago, many friends and colleagues did the same check and several of them realized that they really needed a booster.  It’s worth the extra few minutes if only to prevent an infection that at times may be more a nuisance than a problem, but in the case of people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drug therapy and of course young children and the elderly, the virus can be lethal.

I know that it’s close to Christmas and no one likes a Scrooge, especially one that talks Germs instead of Gifts, but in this case, for Ottawa and other places around the world, I believe that sharing this information can help us to think a little more about corporeal ecology, both one’s own and those of others, and perhaps act a little safer and healthier this Holiday Season.

And for those who might think that these infections and other problems have nothing to do with them, I ask them to think of those who are infected and are susceptible to such problems…how would they feel if they knew they were the cause, even if it was unintended?

I’d love to hear your comments.

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