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veterinary practices, the concept of Infection Control is usually limited to the
efforts by staff to keep one animal from infecting another. Similarly,
"isolation" is often nothing more than one animal physically separated from the
rest of the population. Although these actions are surely steps that have a
place, there is much more to the issue of isolation and infection control.
In today's clinical environment, we must approach the topic of infection
control from a perspective of total staff and patient protection from pathogenic
organisms while complying with government regulations pertaining to the
activities performed. Although the procedures discussed here will work in any
practice, because of the unique nature of each organization, it'll certainly be
necessary to modify or tailor the steps slightly to fit the practice's special
The actual procedures that are followed in each situation are
practice-specific, however, there must be a system of standardization and
communication in place FIRST. The doctors must decide when certain procedures
will be enacted on a practice-wide basis and not a doctor-specific one. For
instance, in most practices, the rule should be that stray, wild or feral
animals are only handled by staff members who have been successfully vaccinated
against rabies. Likewise, when the case includes a differential diagnosis that is
zoonotic in nature, ALL doctors in the practice should follow the same steps in
ordering a specific isolation protocol until the case is resolved or the
zoonotic potential has passed.
Communication also includes the use of special signs or labels that alert
staff members of the condition. Since every staff member should know what those
signs and labels mean, we recommend a poster or placard describing them instead
of relying on someone’s memory! Place the poster or placard in several locations
throughout the practice, especially at the entrances to patient wards.
No matter what the disease, there are precautions that are warranted in
almost all situations dealing with a potential zoonotic or contagious disease.
These are known as “universal precautions.”
- Limit the number of staff allowed that come in contact with the infected
animal. After all, the fewer people involved means fewer people potentially
exposed. People not essential for the care or treatment of the patient should
not be allowed to come in contact with the animal.
- Practice good personal hygiene after all contact with a sick animal and
contaminated surfaces (to see the article on
Handwashing, click here)
- The use of gown and gloves for any contact with the sick animal or
contaminated surfaces as a physical “barrier” between the staff and the
potential pathogen is highly recommended. However, it does no good to use a
gown or apron more than once, so having a “community” gown outside the door to
the isolation room does not help the situation and may allow pathogens to
“escape” into the normal hospital areas.
- Contain and dispose of contaminated waste properly. In general, waste
should be “bagged” in the area where it was generated (e.g., the isolation
ward) and then placed inside of another bag once outside the infected area.
Any material that is not designed to be reused, (and thus properly cleaned)
should be discarded at the conclusion of the case.
- Enforce cleaning and disinfecting procedures for contaminated
environmental surfaces. In most cases, any EPA-registered hospital
detergent-disinfectant currently used by health-care facilities may be used.
Of course, the manufacturer’s recommendations for dilution, contact time, and
care in handling should be followed. It is not advisable to mix chemicals for
a “special disinfectant” since efficacy and safety can not be ensured.
By following the universal precautions every time a patient is suspected of
having a zoonotic or contagious disease, the staff may be exposed to the
diseased patient, but they can truly minimize the chance of their contact with
the pathogenic organism itself.
There are basically two reasons for the isolation of a
patient in a veterinary practice: The patient is isolated either to protect it
from the hazards of the facility or to protect the other occupants of the
facility (people and animals) from the patient. However, there is only one
purpose of an isolation ward: to enable specific, strict procedures to be
followed without interrupting the day-to-day operations of the rest of the
All isolation cases are not the same because the danger to the staff and to
other animals is not always the same. Because there are differences in the
degree of the hazard, there are differences in the degree of precautions. With
that in mind, we’ve developed the following color-coded Infection Control Level
Green - This usually indicates no special
precautions aside from normal animal husbandry and good personal hygiene. In
the practical sense, a typical hospital ward would operate in the Green
Condition most of the time. This is also used to denote that the isolation
space has been properly cleaned and disinfected after use and is now ready for
the next patient.
Yellow - This level is used when the condition of the patient warrants
segregation from other animals, especially of the same species, but the
condition is not considered contagious to the staff or general public. This
category usually includes conditions like leukemia positive cats or parvovirus
Orange - Level Orange is used for patients which are highly contagious
to other animals of any species but not considered contagious to the staff or
general public. Diseases that typically warrant this level of precaution
include upper respiratory infections, BSE, and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
Red - Isolation Condition Red is the most severe. It is reserved for
those cases where the patient's condition is not only contagious to other
animals, but is hazardous to people as well. Diseases like rabies, brucellosis,
leptospirosis, or even salmonella infections in foals fall into this category.
Purple - This level of precaution is for conditions that are hazardous
to people, but not necessarily a concern for other animals. For instance,
patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment with cytotoxic drugs would fit in
In the end, it all boils down to understanding how
organisms are transferred from one surface to another because containing or
preventing the spread of a disease is the first priority when dealing with
potentially dangerous organisms.
Additional information on selected diseases:
Leptospirosis (CDC website page)
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