Infections can be dangerous to a cancer patient coming out of surgery or undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. So can the spread of infections from the community. Think tuberculosis, shingles and the flu.
Our highly specialized Infection Control team is committed to making sure these kinds of germs don't reach our patients.
"A mild infection can turn serious for one of our patients if it's not treated quickly and appropriately," says Roy Chemaly, M.D., medical director of Infection Control and chair of our Infection Control Committee. "That's why we screen when other hospitals may not screen for multi-resistant organisms."
Linda Graviss, manager for Infection Control, adds an important point: An infection may require a patient to pause treatment until the illness is under control and result in an extended hospital stay or a readmission. This is why prevention is key, says Chemaly.
"Instead of only focusing on high-risk areas or high-risk patients, our surveillance program covers all aspects of patient care -- inpatients and outpatients," he says.
Our superheroes who fight the superbugs
Graviss is the longest-serving member of the Infection Control team at 17 years. She manages six infection preventionists who perform routine inspections of patient care areas. They also educate our care teams and patients on health threats.
Team members are responsible for addressing specific threats and covering designated areas, including:
Intensive care units, pediatric floors and our Houston locations outside of the Texas Medical Center
Central line-associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections
Surgical site infections and respiratory viruses
Collectively, the team has nearly 100 years of experience in infection prevention and control. Some bring nursing experience. Others have a background in microbiology.
In addition, the Infection Control team reviews the design and construction of new patient rooms and operating spaces, and introduces technology to prevent the spread of infection.
Under Infection Control's guidance, for example, MD Anderson has used Xenex germ-zapping robots for the past four years. These robots use ultraviolet light to destroy hard-to-kill germs in hospital rooms.
Protecting our patients
While our Infection Control team is committed to preventing infections, every member of our staff plays a role in this vital task. This includes everyone from our building attendants who ensure the cleanliness of every patient room to our clinic and center staff members who demonstrate exceptional hand hygiene practices.
Few understand the importance of infection control better than Polly Williams. She's both an infection preventionist here and a patient.
"Every job at MD Anderson is important to our patients," she emphasizes, "from those who process cultures to those who draw blood or clean our patients' rooms."
"Being a patient has given me a different perspective. As health care workers, we don't always feel like what we do makes a difference. But as a patient, every job makes a difference."
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.