What does infection control mean for me? Why should I worry about infection? There are many germs in the world that we are all exposed to everyday. For people with healthy lungs, this is no big deal. For someone with CF, it can be a problem. The increased mucus in a CF patient's lungs make this a very good place for germs to grow. In this warm, moist, favorable environment certain germs can grow, multiply and become stronger. Stronger meaning they build a little wall around themselves to protect themselves against the antibiotics taken to get rid of them. These extra-strong germs can cause lots of problems and make you very sick. The more your body tries to fight off these germs, the more swelling and irritation there is in the lungs. This process causes a cycle of more mucus, infection, and damage.
The most common trouble causing germ we check for in a CF patient is Pseudomonas aeruginosa or PA for short. We do sputum cultures on our patients regularly to monitor for this germ. If you have never had this germ, we check for it every three months or whenever you are sick. If you have the extra strong type of this germ, we check your cultures yearly or when you're sick. We do this by swabbing your throat or having you to cough up a sample into a sterile cup. Our goal is to identify the germ early and treat it early to get rid of it. We do this with an inhaled antibiotic called TOBI, and /or with antibiotics by mouth or intravenously (IV).
A similar and meaner germ, called B.cepacia, occurs in some CF patients. This germ has several different varieties and sometimes has the potential to make you much sicker than any other germ. If this germ grows in your culture, and is making you sick more than you used to be, it will probably mean you need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. Your CF team monitors this closely and will tell you when to be admitted or do something else.
The best ways we know to avoid germs is to use good hand washing or hand sanitizing practices, avoid contact with other CF patients, and wear a mask when you are likely to contact other CF patients (such as in the waiting room, hospital hallways or cafeteria) and follow the hospital rules regarding staying in your room. This is only for the protection of your child and other CF patients. We also clean all rooms and equipment between patients in the clinic, sanitize our hands before and after patient contact (let us know if you don't see us doing it!) and and gown and glove when we are in your exam room. The CFF infection control guidelines do not require separate clinic days for positive Pseudomonas patients.
For more information on infection control and CF germs, see the articles at the CF Foundation website.