When Coronavirus (COVID-19) first surfaced in 2019, we had no idea that it would become a global pandemic, spreading to almost every country around the world, disrupting daily lives and derailing global economies. The health care and occupational health communities are amongst those that have been heavily impacted, but one clear outcome for everyone, is that good hygiene practices are more fundamental than ever.
Proficient health care services and over the counter medicines have made it possible to navigate relatively care-free in a world that is loaded with microorganisms, but the pandemic brought into focus how susceptible we all are to infection and how much bacteria surrounds us every day. To reinforce this message:
A teaspoon of soil contains as many microorganisms as humans currently living in Africa and gram of dental plaque contains approximately 1x1011 bacteria, which is roughly the number of humans who ever lived.1
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals practiced good hygiene as a standard work practice - disinfecting work surfaces, wiping down medical equipment, and washing hands. Fast forward to today, and these actions have become an essential for everyone in order to protect not just patients, but also colleagues and our own families.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, audiological services pose a medium to high-risk infection rate for Coronavirus diseases because of the proximity to patients, test set-up, and length of appointments.2 Despite the development of several vaccines, the healthcare sector is likely to continue facing some level of strain due to the ease of virus transmission and will need to function with the strictest hygiene and sanitation programs as an ongoing requirement.
A ‘high-touch’ service
Traditionally, audiological care has been very much a ‘high-touch’ service where equipment is frequently handled and several face-to-face screening assessments, hearing-aid fittings and follow-up appointments are conducted, all within confined spaces. With most people who require audiology services being over 70 years of age,3 this demographic is also at one of the highest risks from Coronavirus.
The potential for future physical distancing restrictions, increased sanitation, ventilation and lockdowns, also creates challenging circumstances in which to provide a high-quality hearing health service. The question is; do hearing healthcare services need to adapt to additional hygiene practices and if so, how do we tackle this?
Adapting to a new 'normal'
Occupational health professionals, audiologists and clinicians have to reconcile themselves with the fact that social distancing restrictions of some degree along with increased use of PPE is now a ‘new normal’, and so must adapt accordingly with patient safety in mind.
As stated by the American academy of audiology:
“In the delivery of any health-related service, it is the health professional's responsibility to ensure the safety of all patients served. Toward this end, it is imperative that audiologists provide patients with diagnostic and treatment environments that are designed to minimize or eliminate the potential transmission of disease.”4
With an occupational hazard such as Coronavirus, elimination is impossible, so it becomes about minimising risk. A digital approach should be considered first, whereby patient interactions can be conducted via phone, video, email, or any other form of digital communication as appropriate.
Where face-to-face appointments are required, make sure the clinic setting and operational criteria can meet the standards needed using professional judgement regarding necessity and in line with local policy.
Before conducting any clinics, practitioners should make sure they are fully competent with basic sterilisation techniques and hygiene principles. Hand and respiratory hygiene should be in place, as well as allocation of time for deep cleaning areas that provide the space to social distance.
There may also need to be a consideration of the air supply to the facility. Most types of air conditioning systems can be used as normal, but if you have a centralised ventilation system which removes and circulates air to different rooms, it is recommended to turn it off and use a fresh air supply.
As well as this, if using a fluid resistant surgical mask (FRSM type IIR) for a continued period (more than one patient visit), it should not be removed or touched until the usage period is concluded. Masks should therefore be replaced as soon as they become damaged, cause skin irritation, or become difficult to breathe through.
Hygiene consumables to help minimise risk
Hygiene rules within the medical sphere have consistently been very strict, as we have always been aware contamination and cross-infection risks.
However, Coronavirus or any another viral respiratory disease is likely to continue as a pervasive global influence. While it poses a tremendous challenge to traditional audiological services, it also creates the incentive to rapidly adapt to a changing landscape.
Together with clinicians, occupational health professionals, employers, and employees - we at Amplivox strive to provide the best hygiene and disinfectant solutions possible, in order to promote good hygiene amongst the audiology community.
We now offer the following audiometry and spirometry hygiene consumable solutions: Type IIr3ply surgical face masks, Ear Cushion Covers, Bacterial Viral Filter for spirometers, Clinell Universal Wipes and Promed nitrile gloves.
For more information on any of our hygiene consumables please contact our customer support team on +44 (0)1865 880 846 or email.
1Microbiology by numbers. Nat Rev Microbiol 9, 628 (2011).
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Work Restrictions for Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure to COVID-19 (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-risk-assesment-hcp.html
3Healthy Hearing. Hearing loss statistics at a glance (2019). https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52814-Hearing-loss-statistics-at-a-glance
4 American academy of audiology. Infection Control in Audiological Practice. https://www.audiology.org/publications/guidelines-and-standards/infection-control-audiological-practice
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Coronavirus (COVID-19): working safely. Health and Safety Executive (HSE). https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/index.htm