How To Stay Safe From Pathogens When Performing CPR

While sudden cardiac arrest causes 300,000 to 450,000 deaths a year in the US, a number of them can be prevented if more people know how to do CPR. So, when you decide to get CPR-certified you’re gearing up to be a potential hero, someone who could save a life in a heartbeat.

But in the heat of the moment, when you’re ready to jump in and perform chest compressions or rescue breaths, it’s easy to forget that you also need to protect yourself in such hazardous circumstances, including invisible threats. Pathogens pose a great risk for CPR givers as these pesky microorganisms can enter your body during the CPR procedure and cause diseases. Knowing how to stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR is a vital part of the process, as it keeps both you and the person you’re helping out of harm’s way.

CPR is a powerful tool in your lifesaving arsenal, but doing it safely for everyone involved is just as important as doing it correctly. This article explores the fundamentals of how to stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR and explore precautions and considerations when using personal protective equipment (PPE).

Understanding Pathogens and CPR

When you think of pathogens, several things come to mind – invisible contamination and the variety of infectants. These microorganisms come in various forms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Each of these can cause a disease and wreak havoc on your health in different ways. For instance, bacteria can cause infections like strep throat or urinary tract infections; viruses are responsible for illnesses like the flu and the common cold; fungi can lead to skin conditions like athlete’s foot; and parasites might be behind diseases like malaria.

These tiny troublemakers can spread from one person to another through various means – touching contaminated surfaces, inhaling infected droplets from a cough or sneeze, consuming tainted food or water, and even giving CPR to an infected SCA victim.

While knowing how to administer CPR can make a huge difference during medical emergencies, there’s a flip side you need to be aware of – the risk of coming into contact with pathogens. During CPR, especially if you’re performing rescue breaths, you’re close to someone else’s bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood, or even vomit, which might contain pathogens that could make you sick.

How You Can Contract A Pathogen During CPR

When giving someone CPR, your main focus is trying to revive them – as it should be. But there’s an increased risk of getting infected by a pathogen because you’re in direct contact with their bodily fluids. It’s not the most comfortable thing to think about, but it’s something you should be prepared for.

If you’re doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, you’re right where those fluids are, meaning germs have a direct route to you. And while chest compressions alone don’t pose the same level of risk, they can still expose you to pathogens if you end up coming into contact with the person’s blood or other bodily fluids.

Even though the WHO declared an end to the public health emergency in 2023, there have been 173 recent COVID-related hospitalizations in Alexandria, so you must keep yourself safe. Now, this isn’t to scare you away from performing CPR – far from it. The risk of infection is relatively low, and it shouldn’t deter you from helping someone in need.

The Basics of Performing CPR Safely

When you’re preparing to give CPR, think safety first, not just for the person in need but for yourself as well. You’ve probably noticed the new additions to the first aid kits, such as face masks and shields, designed to prevent infection and protect everyone’s health in an SCA emergency.

A controlled study showed that giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation doesn’t significantly affect the patient outcome, so it’s not always necessary. But for situations where it can’t be avoided, remember that a face mask or shield can provide a protective barrier between you and the person you’re helping, reducing the risk of transmitting infectious diseases. Make sure the mask fits snugly over their mouth and nose, and if you’re using a one-way valve mask, it ensures that your rescue breaths go only one way.

The protection procedures also apply to your hands, with gloves being your best friend in this situation. They shield you from blood, bodily fluids, and any invisible enemies that could pose a risk. Sure, it might not always be possible to have gloves on hand, but if you do, use them. They add that extra layer of protection that could make all the difference.

But whether you’ve got gloves or not, hand hygiene is a must. Before you even think about starting CPR, if you have the time, try to disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. This isn’t just a courtesy; it’s about keeping everyone safe.

Once you’ve finished performing CPR, you’ll want to sanitize your hands again, or better yet, wash them thoroughly. Remember, once you’ve used your PPE, it’s equally important to dispose of it safely. This means locating a proper biohazard container, not just tossing it in the nearest trash can.

Advanced Precautions and Considerations

When you’re gearing up to perform CPR, you must think about your safety, and using PPE is your first line of defense. Advanced precautions involve a deeper understanding of what types of PPE will keep you safe during CPR, including:

    • Nitrile gloves

    • Face shields

    • Face masks

    • CPR mouthpieces

    • Hand sanitizer

    • Paper towels

    • Plastic bags

Hands-Only CPR

Another thing to consider is your CPR technique. You learned the ABCs — airway, breathing, compression — but there are times when you might need to adjust your approach, especially when you’re trying to keep infection risk at a minimum. Recent studies have shown that compression-only CPR can be just as effective in the first few minutes as giving CPR with ventilation. It’s a straightforward approach that requires no mouth-to-mouth contact, reducing the risk of transmitting pathogens.

But even with hands-only CPR, there are things to take into account. The standard procedure might still be necessary if you’re dealing with a child or an infant. Their little bodies work differently and often need help to oxygenate their blood. That’s when having a barrier device, like a pocket mask with a one-way valve, becomes invaluable. It allows you to give breaths without direct contact.

Dealing With Visible Contamination During CPR

When faced with a situation where someone needs CPR, and there’s visible contamination like blood or vomit, it can be off-putting, but it’s essential to manage these bodily fluids safely to provide lifesaving assistance. So, here are seven practical tips to handle such situations effectively:

    1. If you have access to disposable gloves, put them on quickly to protect yourself. Your safety should come first, and gloves are a barrier against potential infections.

    1. If the person has vomit in their mouth, you’ll want to clear the airway. Tilt their head to the side and remove any debris with your finger, ideally covered with a cloth or piece of gauze.

    1. Use a face shield or a mask with a one-way valve when giving rescue breaths. This can protect you from direct contact with bodily fluids while ensuring the person still receives the necessary ventilation.

    1. If you’re concerned about contamination, compressions-only CPR is an option. Studies show it can be just as effective in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.

    1. Always have a CPR kit handy with full personal protection equipment.

    1. Once emergency services arrive, inform them of the contaminants present so they can take appropriate precautions.

    1. After CPR, always wash your hands and face thoroughly or try to sanitize using high-proof sanitizer.

Protecting Yourself From Pathogens During CPR

So, how to stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR? The key is prioritizing your well-being using PPE like masks and gloves and brushing up on the latest safety protocols. You don’t want to second-guess your moves in a high-stakes situation, so getting certified in CPR isn’t just a good idea—it’s a proactive step toward being ready for anything.
The risks from pathogens are real, but with the proper knowledge and tools, you can minimize them and focus on what’s important – saving a life. So sign up for a CPR class in Alexandria, and feel confident that you possess the right skills to help in an emergency and stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR. By being prepared, you’re not just protecting yourself; you’re ensuring you can offer assistance without hesitation when it’s most needed.