Infectious disease is a significant cause of ill health worldwide, accounting for over 13 million deaths every year. Recent events suggest that re-evaluation of current practice and promotion of improved hygiene in home and everyday life settings could have a significant impact in reducing the global burden of infectious disease.
Although the majority of deaths occur in the developing world, infectious disease still causes around 4% of deaths in developed countries and is a significant cause of morbidity. In the developed world, although vaccination strategies and ready access to antibiotics have meant that attitudes to infectious disease have relaxed in recent decades, the threats posed by the emergence of new pathogens and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, the increasing importance of viral diseases (e.g. norovirus, influenza, SARS), together with trends towards providing care in the community mean that the role of infectious disease prevention as part of public health is likely to increase rather than decrease in coming years.
Governments, under pressure to fund the level of healthcare that people expect, are looking at prevention as a means to reduce health spending. Increased homecare is one approach to reducing health spending, but gains are likely to be undermined by inadequate infection prevention and control at home. Healthcare workers now accept that reducing the burden of infection in healthcare settings cannot be achieved without also reducing the circulation of pathogens such as norovirus and MRSA in the community.
In line with this, IFH is committed to promoting hygiene education and developing community-based projects that will empower communities and individuals to take responsibility for their health in terms of hygiene in the home and its environment. IFH looks at hygiene “holistically” from the point of view of the family, and the range of actions which they need to undertake (food and water hygiene, handwashing, safe disposal of human and other waste) in order to protect themselves from infectious disease. This also includes caring for family members who are infected, or who are at greater risk of infection e.g patients discharged from hospital or undergoing outpatient treatment, babies, pregnant mums etc.
One of the key actions which IFH has undertaken has been the development of a risk-based (or HACCP-based) approach to home hygiene (targeted hygiene). This approach has been used successfully for controlling microbial quality in food and other manufacturing environments, and is now being introduced as a means to control hospital-acquired infections. The risk-based or targeted approach has been used by IFH as the basis for making evidence-based decisions about home hygiene and hygiene procedures.
The concept of “targeted hygiene” also provides a way to address the various “hygiene issues” such as those related to the hygiene hypothesis and the concerns about antimicrobial resistance. Whilst targeted hygiene was originally developed by IFH as an effective approach to hygiene practice in the home and community, it also provides an excellent framework for building sustainability into hygiene. Through prudent and focussed use of hygiene products and processes, it intrinsically minimises environmental impacts, minimises any risks of encouraging the development of antibiotic resistance through low level biocide exposure. It also seeks, as far as possible, to sustain "normal" levels of exposure to the microbial flora of our environment to the extent that is important to build a balanced immune system.