A Guide to Proper Enteric Precautions
When caring for or visiting someone who has been given “enteric” status, it is necessary to take the proper precautions during the visit, which are known as enteric precautions. Enteric refers to the intestinal tract and the possibility of a disease or bacteria causing intestinal upset. As a general rule, people who are admitted to a hospital with diarrhea are placed in enteric precautions, sometimes called enteric isolation, until the diarrhea has stopped.
There are certain precautions that hospital staff must take in order to contain the spread of any diseases which may be present. The first precaution taken is to place the patient into a private room. This seclusion prevents others from coming into unsupervised or unapproved contact with the patient. In most hospitals a general enteric isolation unit contains disposable stethoscopes and gowns that can be used when it is necessary to come in contact with the patient. Medical staff usually wear a mask over the bottom half of their face to prevent bacteria from infecting their airways or membranes. They also must wash their hands with soap and warm water before putting on a pair of disposable gloves when physical contact with the patient is necessary. The mask and gloves will then be immediately disposed of in a waterproof container and the staff’s hands must be washed again. Some hospitals contain a secluded area of the hospital strictly for the isolation of patients. High security isolation units may also be present for severe infections such as Ebola and Lassa.
The room in an enteric unit will contain its own bathroom which will be thoroughly decontaminated before and after occupation. The use of bedpans is avoided if possible as the handling of body fluids poses a greater threat of infection for the medical staff. If an accident occurs resulting in uncontained vomit, urine, or feces, an absorbent material is placed over the liquid to ensure that it does not spread. A disinfectant cleaner will be used to clean the mess. During the times that care is being given to the patient, medical staff tries to limit the number of tools and surfaces that come into contact with the patient so that the only items used are necessary to care for the patient. This is an attempt to confine the bacteria because, after all, the more items that the patient comes into contact with, the greater chance there is of the infectious organisms spreading.
While medical staff are well aware of these enteric precautions, not all visitors know how necessary they are to prevent the spread of illnesses. Patients admitted to a high security isolation unit may not be allowed to have visitors due to the severity of their condition. Patients placed in an isolation room in a general ward are more likely to be allowed visitors, as long as the proper measures of precaution are taken. Visitors may be asked to wear a gown, but this is not always a necessary precaution. Guests should wash their hands frequently using warm water and soap. They should never use bacterial liquid or gel to cleanse the hands as this can make the skin sticky and in fact collect bacteria to its surface. A visitor should try not to come into contact with the patient’s body fluids, however should this happen they should wash the area immediately. Any guest who is unsure about what enteric precautions they should take should speak to a nurse or physician before entering the isolation room. In most cases visitors are given a list of instructions before they are allowed to enter the room.