Trending Topics

Contamination control starts with your feet

Consider practicing aggressive contamination of your footwear to protect yourself and your family

These boots edit.jpg

As a paramedic and law enforcement officer, when I teach about blood-borne pathogens and contamination, I emphasize that footwear is a primary vector of contamination spread. In the past, I would clean my boots if contaminated but now if I have substantial body fluid contact, I discard them. Expensive, yes, but I value my safety and that of my family more.

Daily after duty, I remove my footwear prior to entering my residence and use an aerosol or liquid disinfectant upon the footwear and leave it to dry outside. I keep a spare set of footwear and socks in my patrol vehicle, so I do not contaminate my vehicle if my footwear becomes contaminated. I can secure it in a double-bagged paper bag after spraying with disinfectant.

I had a serendipitous event occur which reinforced my belief that footwear was a likely source of contamination if worn into a residence. While walking to the front door to go outside to empty a three-hole punch in the outside trash bin, the bottom separated, and about 100 paper “dots,” technically known as “chads,” cascaded onto the floor. My residence was built in the mid-1950s and has hardwood floors but carpet in one room.

I wondered if the “chads” would be good indicators of contamination spread if left alone. Vacuuming is usually performed several times per week as the house is also home to our 140-pound Alsatian Wolf Dog. To my wife’s annoyance, I did not vacuum for several days to track the spread. I believed, through this wholly “unscientific experiment,” the spread would be minimal. She, a theoretical mathematician, used a mathematical dispersion model and projected a spread throughout the house within 48 hours.

I was surprised at the end of the week to find the “chads” everywhere and in every room of the modest 1,600 square foot home. I am weeks later still finding them in floor cracks, behind doors, and some even made it through the washer and dryer attached by static cling to clothing.

This astounded me and was graphic evidence, in my view, that contamination can and does spread, especially it seems, from footwear. Consider practicing aggressive contamination of your footwear to protect yourself and your family.

NEXT: The bug battle: Infection prevention and control for law enforcement

Colonel Jim Smith, MSS, NRP, FABCHS, CPC, CLEE, is the public safety director for the Cottonwood Police Department in Cottonwood, Alabama. He has more than 45 years of experience in public safety and has worked for a large metropolitan agency as captain and executive assistant to the police chief to public safety director for a small rural agency.

He has written several textbooks including “Tactical Medicine Essentials” (coauthor, endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians),"Crisis Management for Law Enforcement,” both in their second edition. He also produced the fourth edition of “Brodie’s Bombs and Bombings.”

He is an APOSTC-certified law enforcement executive and certified police chief and graduate of the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in safety. A prolific writer, he has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles in an assortment of journals. He teaches for Troy University as an adjunct instructor and for the University of Phoenix online as an instructor. Smith continues to teach emergency medical technology and tactical medicine through several institutions.