May 05, 2009
Keep clean and keep safe
Inspector Terry Parnell, EMT-P, Federal Protective Service (VA)
As of now it appears all the hype over the "Swine" Flu maybe not pan out to meet the news agencies expectations but lessons learned here can and should be used everyday for common viral illnesses that can knock us out of work and burn up those precious leave days.
As police officers we are not able to decide who we want to make contact with and often have to deal with people with various types of illness. We will contact people with nasty little bugs that can make us or loved ones sick. We all go to high alert when we hear AIDS, HIV, or Hepatitis. How often do we go on the defensive when our perp has the sniffles? Your agency should already have a process for cleaning up body fluids and this isn’t meant to replace it, just some ideas to augment it.
Universal precautions are not being done "universally" in the law enforcement field. I understand that you cannot always glove up before touching a suspect but if possible you should. Something as basic as a protected hand can mean the difference between health and an annoying or debilitating virus. Leather gloves with biohazard linings can block the viruses and are better than nothing but the bugs can stay on the leather and it’s not likely we are going to throw away a pair of $40 leather gloves if we get body fluids on them. Hopefully you can clean them well enough to kill the germs.
Wash your hands constantly during your shift. Not only after touching suspects but after handling ID’s, money, or other commonly handled items as well as just going in and out of doors. Use of a hand sanitizer is better than nothing but good old soap and water are the best.
If you share cars clean them before and after your shift. A few minutes wiping down the surfaces with a common household antibacterial cleaner will kill most viruses that may have been left. Wipe everywhere you will touch or bring close to your face. Radio mics, switches, steering wheel, gearshift, radar, and video controls, etc. are all locations to wipe down. Wipe down the suspect compartment as well. If you have your own car that only you use then you can most likely keep the cleaning to once a shift. Remember to wipe down surfaces after transporting persons with symptoms of viral illnesses.
Transporting suspects who are coughing, sniffling or showing other symptoms may pose problems when transporting them in a car. If your agency allows, place a medical mask over the suspect to trap any droplets that may erupt from sneeze or cough. If your suspect complains that he doesn’t have swine flu just tell him that you don’t know if the person that was just in the back had it or not and you are protecting him. Keeping air flowing will help reduce the likelihood of infection. Having your windows open if weather allows will let air flow through the car and dilute the ratio of virus and germs in the air.
Let’s not forget to clean what we use and not to cross contaminate. Whatever we touch between handling a suspect and washing our hands has become contaminated. So if we wash our hands after getting the suspect to jail, everything we touched between the first contact and now needs wiped down again. If we wash our hands without doing so we are just wasting a step. Remember to wipe down handcuffs, batons, and anything else we handled. It doesn’t require a hazmat crew, just a quick thorough wipe with an antimicrobial towel will help.
If possible, take a shower and leave your uniforms at the station or keep them bagged until laundry day. Don’t forget that footwear gets dirty too. I know my family likes to greet me after a shift with a hug and now I don’t have to worry about something on my uniform coming home with me and infecting one of them.
Hopefully now you won't either