Rough sleeping: coronavirus and infectious diseases on the streets


A mattress sits on the ground next to a brick wall. Rubbish is scatter around and puddle can be see in the forefront.
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For the people we support who are rough sleeping and homeless, infection and disease are a constant risk. Many people on the streets have compromised immune systems which make them vulnerable to infection. 

In this blog post, our outreach worker talks more about the health risks for those on the streets and how, as outreach workers, we need to help stop the spread of infection.

"These days Coronavirus has made us all hyper conscious of our personal hygiene and infection control. As an outreach worker supporting rough sleepers and homeless people, I have been dealing with this matter for many years. It is recognised that the prevalence of infectious diseases is significantly higher in the rough sleeper community than in the general population because they are often more vulnerable due to having compromised immune systems. Infections can come in many forms including viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal. In my working life I have seen them all. 

Most people are aware that during the winter months “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”. Besides seasonal flu and the common cold, as an outreach worker I am acutely aware that I must practice excellent hygiene standards and infection control all year round due to the wide range of possible health threats. There is a significant variety of contagious diseases out on the streets. I have worked with people who have had Hepatitis C which is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Also, HIV which is again a blood borne virus. I have known people to have had TB which is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

A common condition which I often come across is impetigo which is a highly contagious skin infection resulting in red sores and blisters. I have also witnessed several people with scabies which is a parasitic infection caused by mites burrowing into the skin. Similarly, I have dealt with ringworm which is a fungal infection that causes a rash that is ring shaped and can be spread by close contact with someone or their pet. This is a regular one on the streets with people who have a dog with them. 

On any given day I could be dealing with someone who has soiled themselves, is vomiting or who is bleeding from injuries. As such Coronavirus is yet another complication to add to the already challenging mix when it comes to dealing with infection control. 

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic I was already following strict guidelines for infection control in order to safeguard myself, the people that I support on the streets, my colleagues and the general public. Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, so we all have a responsibility to each other to take infection control seriously for all our sakes. Stay well and stay safe."

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