There are many reasons why patients may suffer from a poor immune system. As these patients are more likely than others to contract an illness, it is necessary for professionals to understand which conditions can affect the human immune system and how to properly ensure that their dental practice remains a safe place for these people to visit.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
As a dental professional, you will likely be familiar with HIV and its impact on sufferers. Education regarding the virus has been growing in recent years, but it’s still important to understand how it affects people’s immune systems. There are currently around 101,600 people living with HIV in the UK. Although the vast majority of these cannot pass the disease on as they are virally suppressed, it is still estimated that one in 12 people living with HIV are undiagnosed and therefore can spread the disease.[i]
HIV attacks CD4 cells in the body. These are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in maintaining the efficacy of the immune system. Once the HIV virus attacks these cells it uses them to make more of the HIV virus, quickly spreading throughout the body. This affects the immune systems of those infected as they soon don’t have the frontline defense needed to ward away illness, allowing opportunistic viruses such as colds and influenza to easily take hold.
Chemotherapy and cancer suffers
Although we have come on leaps and bounds regarding treatment of many types of cancers throughout the last few years, these diseases still remain widespread, with almost 360,000 new cases of cancer reported in the UK each year.[ii]
The majority of cancer sufferers may be offered chemotherapy as a treatment option. This, in turn, has considerable impact on their immune systems. Chemotherapy is designed to target rapidly dividing cells. Cancerous cells certainly fit this description, but so too do many healthy cells found within the body including those in the blood, bone marrow, intestines and more. It is the medication attacking the bone marrow which causes the greatest problem, as this prevents the marrow from producing enough red and white blood cells. As white blood cells are responsible for maintaining the immune system, it makes sense that with fewer of them present, meaning individuals who have received chemotherapy are more likely to contract illnesses.
Primary immune deficiencies (PID)
Alongside diseases that can alter your immune system, there is also a portion of the population whom are born with a compromised immune system in some way. These people are considered to have primary immune deficiencies, and there are over 300 different types of these conditions on record as of today. Whilst the majority of these are incredibly rare, there are still over 4,300 people in the UK living with these conditions, which shouldn’t be ignored. It is also worth noting that it is difficult to assess how many people are living with PIDs as there is no screening process in place for newborns, meaning the number may be much higher.[iii]
PIDs are caused by genetic errors; either the cells responsible for defense against disease do not function properly or they simply aren’t there. Each of these malfunctions are different, which is why there are so many different types of PIDs that people suffer from and why some are far more severe than others.
Much like a damaged immune system can cause problems, an overactive immune system can also be challenging for patients wanting to avoid illness. Recent numbers indicate that as many as 4 million people in the UK are suffering from an autoimmune condition.[iv]
People suffering from these conditions (including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis) tend to take immune suppressants in order to manage their condition. However, this comes with the side effect of leaving them more susceptible to illnesses. This is because these medications limit the activity of the white blood cells, preventing them from attacking the healthy cells but also any foreign pathogens such as cold viruses as well.
In light of the range and prevalence of these conditions, it’s incredibly likely that you will come into contact with a patient who has a compromised immune system at some point. For individuals with these conditions, getting ill is much more problematic than for those with good immune systems. This is because there is always a chance that they won’t be able to fend off sickness, resulting in potentially fatal implications. Therefore, you need to ensure that your practice remains a safe haven where they will be unlikely to pick up any illnesses.[v]
Introducing antibacterial soap and hand sanitiser into waiting rooms and bathroom areas is a good step, but also using cleaning products that can effectively destroy a wide array of pathogens is necessary. The Steri-7 Xtra range of disinfectants from Initial Medical is an ideal choice. These products not only deactivate 99.9999% of fungi, yeasts, bacteria, viruses and spores, but they also benefit from Reactive Barrier Technology, meaning that pathogens cannot recolonize surfaces between cleaning cycles for up to 72 hours, providing round the clock biosecurity.
Awareness is key
As with many conditions, awareness is key to understanding. By taking the time to learn more about these afflictions and how they affect the immune system, you can see why it’s imperative to use highly effective cleaning products. This allows you to provide a safe, sanitary environment in which those affected can receive treatment.
For further information please visit https://www.initial.co.uk/healthcare-waste/ or Tel: 0870 850 4045
[i] National Aids Trust. HIV in the UK 2017 Statistics. Link: https://www.nat.org.uk/we-inform/HIV-statistics/UK-statistics [Last accessed January 19].
[ii] Cancer Research UK. Cancer Statistics for the UK. Link: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics-for-the-uk [Last accessed January 19].
[iii] Breast Cancer Org. How Chemotherapy Affects The Immune System. Link: https://www.breastcancer.org/tips/immune/cancer/chemo [Last accessed January 19].
[v] British Society for Immunology. Report Reveals the Rising Rates of Autoimmune Conditions. Link: https://www.immunology.org/news/report-reveals-the-rising-rates-autoimmune-conditions [Last accessed January 19].