A Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic has spoken of the importance of infection prevention and control by healthcare workers amid a climate of emerging infectious diseases like Zika virus.
Ms Jennifer Cox from the University's School of Biomedical Sciences, said, "Healthcare-associated infections have become the most common, preventable complication of healthcare delivery in the modern era.
"Indeed, some infections place patients at a three-fold increased risk of dying in hospital.
"Adding to this complexity is the impact of increasing antibiotic-resistance and an unprecedented resurgence of infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika viruses for which no vaccine and/or treatment is currently available.
"The Zika virus was discovered in 1947 but relatively unknown until 2007. It has now reached epidemic proportions in Brazil and been identified in at least 13 other countries including Italy, Mexico and Australia."
The World Health Organisation this week declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency.
"In this climate, the need for healthcare workers to be able to safely work with patients with transmissible diseases has become more important than ever," Ms Cox said.
"It may, in fact, be a matter of life and death."
However, Ms Cox has highlighted a substantial body of evidence to indicate that healthcare workers are inconsistent in their application of infection control precautions, particularly hand hygiene.
Infection control policies are based on microbiology – an understanding of the transmission and properties of microorganisms. The ability to apply microbiology knowledge to assess a situation and respond appropriately is part of being competent in infection control.
The lecturer in biomedical science recently studied the role of microbiology education and the influence of clinical placement experiences on Australian nursing students' infection control intentions and behaviours.
She found that although nursing students became more familiar with infection control procedures, particularly hand hygiene, as they progressed through their pre-registration program, there was not an associated increase in their knowledge and understanding of underlying microbiological concepts.
However, student experiences during clinical placements, in particular role modelling of infection control practice by clinical supervisors were found to have a significant influence on students' infection control intentions and behaviours.
Ms Cox said, "Without being able to apply microbiology knowledge to infection control decision making, that is apply the knowledge in context, there is an inherent risk of incorrect application of infection control practices.
"The findings and recommendations of my study will help the development of microbiology curriculum, including my proposal for redefining the meaning and assessment of infection control competence.
"If adopted, these approaches would potentially enhance students' understanding and synthesis of microbiology - a key skill that will become increasingly important for patient and healthcare worker safety in the face of continuing and emerging infectious diseases such as Zika virus."