What is Health Protection?
Health Protection is a term used to encompass a set of activities within the Public Health function. It involves:
- Ensuring the safety and quality of food, water, air and the general environment
- Preventing the transmission of communicable diseases
- Managing outbreaks and other incidents which threaten the health of the public
- Cancer and non cancer screening programmes
- Immunisations and vaccinations
- Emergency planning
The profile of Health Protection has increased significantly in recent years with issues such as immunisation, food borne infections, pandemic flu, healthcare associated infection and communicable diseases regularly being in the public eye. The quality of public protection from hazards demands a workforce, educated and trained to the highest standards. Part of the health protection team’s role is to work alongside other professionals groups and organisations to ensure that they are knowledgeable and prepared to prevent infections spreading and to manage outbreaks and incidents when required.
Health Protection starts at home…….
Protecting health starts with you and it starts at home. The following section explains how infections are spread, how to wash hands effectively, what immunisations are recommended and at what age, and why screening is so important.
In what ways are infections transmitted?
- Airborne: breathing in an infection such as flu and colds
- Foodborne: Swallowing food that has germs on it that are able to cause infection such as salmonella or campylobacter
- Bloodborne: someone else’s infected blood entering your body through cuts in the skin made by a sharp object such as Hepatitis C
- Mother to baby: some infections can be passed during pregnancy or during the birth itself such as HIV
- Direct contact: passing of germs from one person to another
- Sexual contact: infections can be passed during unprotected sex such as Chlamydia
How are organisms passed?
In order for an infection to be passed successfully there needs to be certain conditions in place:
- A viable organism – an organism that is fit and healthy and capable of causing an infection
- Enough organisms to cause infection
- A susceptible individual – a person who has little or no immunity to the infection
- A suitable route of transmission – see above
If it is so easy for infections to be passed, why aren’t we always catching infections?
- Body’s defence mechanisms: our bodies have strong defence mechanisms. However the very young or very old are more likely to suffer from certain infections because their defence mechanisms are not as good. This is why we need to take extra care of our young children and elderly friends and family.
- Immunity: The body develops immunity to many infections either following an infection or by being vaccinated against an infection.
- Taking care: eating well and staying fit helps the body to fight off infections
- To reduce the risk of transmission: some infections are easily passed to other people. If you have an infection you should stay away from work until you are feeling better.
- Communication: Sometimes it is important to let close friends and family know if you are suffering from an infection so that they can be aware of symptoms and ask for medical help early e.g. Norovirus
How do I wash my hands properly?
1/ Make your hands wet under warm running water
2/ Use enough soap to develop a lather (too much soap is difficult to rinse off and will dry the skin on your hands)
3/ Rub hand together
4/ Rinse hands thoroughly under warm running water
5/ Dry hands properly
The picture below shows a hand that has been coated with an ultraviolet cream. The person has washed their hands and then placed their hand under an ultraviolet light. The white areas on the hand shows the usual places people miss when they are washing their hands – palm, thumb and finger nails.
Hand washing is the most important thing we can do to prevent infections from spreading.
Page updated 18/07/2016