Protecting your health on the job as a police officer is important as it’s a career with a lot of human interaction. When you work with others, there is always an opportunity to catch a “bug” or other virus. There are also risks of more serious diseases if care is not taken when risks are apparent.
HIV, Hepatitis A, B, and C, and tuberculosis can be transmitted through a variety of different ways – such as air particles and contact with blood/saliva. If you have a weaker immune system, even a cold or flu that would normally be a minor hassle could become more severe.
Being aware of risk factors and preventing the spread of infectious diseases can help keep you and those you work with safer. It is vital to be cautious when dealing with an individual who may possess needles, has a persistent cough, or is spitting or otherwise ejecting bodily fluids.
Infectious diseases are illnesses that are caused by either bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites and can spread in various police scenarios. Depending on the organism transmitted, an infected person can experience varying symptoms. These can resolve on their own with rest, but other serious cases may require treatment or even hospitalization.
Bacteria, though the word has a negative connotation at times, are not always bad. Some cause no effect to humans. Some live in the gut to help us digest food. Examples of infections caused by bad bacteria include strep throat, tuberculosis, MRSA, and food poisoning.
Viruses require a host (people, animals, plants) in order to grow and survive. Some common viral infections include the common cold and COVID-19. Certain ailments such as pneumonia and meningitis can be caused by either a virus or bacteria.
Fungi can cause skin diseases such as ringworm and athlete’s foot, as well as infect your lungs or nervous system.
Parasites are microscopic living organisms that require a host to survive. Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted by mosquito bites. Some parasites can be transmitted from animal feces.
There are two basic ways diseases are passed to humans – either direct or indirect contact.
Direct contact can be person to person. If an infected person coughs or sneezes on you, you have a chance of obtaining the same infection. Another possibility is animal to person, which occurs when an infected animal scratches or bites a human. Handling animal waste can cause infection as well.
Indirect contact can occur in a few different ways. Germs can linger on objects like doorknobs or tables, and if someone touches an infected item and then their face, the germs can be transferred. Insect bites are another example of transmission through indirect contact. Infection can also be spread through contaminated food and water, such as E. coli.
As we remember from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are various types of personal protective equipment (PPE) that can lower the risk of transmission. Some may even prevent infection entirely. It is also important to remember the basics like washing your hands thoroughly.
Here are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of disease:
To protect your health on the job as a police officer, always remember to get the necessary tests if you believe you were exposed to someone with a viral infection. If you were accidentally stuck with a foreign needle, getting tested is even more of a priority and should not be put off.
An upcoming course titled “Infectious Diseases” will soon be available to current law enforcement clients. This 4-hour course falls under the V-VICTA® curriculum umbrella and includes an instructor manual, testing materials, a class roster, and more.
Three new police scenarios are introduced with this course. They include situations where the responding officer needs to exercise caution around a possibly infected individual, as well as someone refusing to wear a mask when a business requires one.
During and after the pandemic, people became much more aware of how many disease can spread. Mitigating the spread of disease as a first responder goes beyond just COVID-19. Officers are in close contact with many people, and any of them could – knowingly or unknowingly – have an infectious disease.
Understanding the diseases and sicknesses that are at the highest risk for law enforcement officers to obtain is the start. Officers also benefit from understanding how diseases can spread and what the signs and symptoms are.
VirTra’s “Infectious Diseases” course provides 4 hours of material for officers to learn from. There are also 3 associated scenarios to help officers practice interactions.
Disease can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi. Viral infections are a common way for first responders to become sick due to contact with the public. HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19, hepatitis, and the common cold are some examples of viruses obtained through direct or indirect contact.
To become infected with a virus/bacteria, typically one of the following contacts have occurred:
The list above is certainly not exhaustive. Some organisms may even linger on objects that were handled by someone with a virus. This is why it is important to take reasonable precautions if there is a risk of becoming ill.
While it is not always foolproof, there are several ways to greatly mitigate the spread of disease. Decreasing the risk of infection can be as simple as washing your hands or avoiding touching your nose and mouth.
Washing your hands frequently – not just when you believe you have touched a sick person – is important. If you unconsciously touch your face with unclean hands or eat without washing them, you could pick up an organism. Make sure your hands are either thoroughly washed with soap, or that you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Using personal protective equipment (PPE) may be necessary to avoid contact with contaminated surfaces or airborne particles. Gloves, face masks, and eye protection are some examples of PPE that can be used on the field if needed. N-95-rated masks may be required for specific organisms to be effective.
It is also recommended that you stay home if you feel ill. You may have a weak immune system and expose yourself to other viruses, plus you may spread a virus to other colleagues. If you are predisposed to infection or have a weakened immune system, taking more precautions helps you better prepare for possible exposure to germs.
Our V-VICTA® course, Infectious Diseases, allows not only for classroom learning, but for real world practice. Some scenarios deal with an individual coughing, letting the officer decide how to handle the situation while protecting themselves. Another deals with irate people who do not wish to comply with a business’ PPE rules.
The scenarios help supplement the learning of this important topic. The course comes with an entire manual containing instructor guides, note taking materials, tests, scoring rubrics, and more. Even better? When the course is completed, students receive a certificate of completion and earn NCP credit.
If you are interested in VirTra’s coursework and want to learn how to incorporate it into your agency’s training regime, contact a specialist.