Last week, our Clinical and Scientific Affairs Specialist, Erin McLean, sat down with Dr. Saskia Popescu, Assistant Professor, Epidemiologist and CloroxPro Spokesperson, to discuss this year’s APIC conference ahead of the event next week. See what they had to say about key topics they expect to be covered, tips for those attending for the first time and more.

Please note: this is an abridged version edited for brevity and clarity. View the full conversation below.  

Erin McLean: I’m Dr. Erin McLean and I am a Clinical and Scientific Affairs Specialist at CloroxPro. Today, I’m here with Dr. Saskia Popescu, Assistant Professor, Epidemiologist and CloroxPro Spokesperson to chat all things APIC, particularly pertaining to the hot topics we think will be discussed at this year’s APIC conference.

Saskia Popescu: Thank you so much for having me, Erin! As an Infection Preventionist and Epidemiologist, APIC is one of my favorite events of the year — it is an exciting opportunity for us to discuss what we’ve experienced in the last year, share pros and cons, successes and challenges and tricks of the trade.

EM: Absolutely. I’m super excited. I wanted to start by picking your brain on what you think are going to be some hot topics at this year’s conference, particularly pertaining to environmental disinfection and why.

SP: I think the first one is emerging pathogens. A lot of us are tired of emerging pathogens since we’re on year four with COVID-19 and now we’re dealing with a lot of Candida auris (C. auris). While this is not a novel pathogen, it is being discussed a lot because it’s challenging for disinfection and diagnostics. I also think pathogens like Mpox and even Marburg, which was recently added to the EPA’s emerging pathogen list, are going to be big topics too. This is because it speaks to how the realm of infection prevention is evolving and how it’s getting a little bit more complicated.

How we handle healthcare worker burnout will be important, as well. As Infection Preventionists, this involves how we manage getting people to stay vigilant with their cleaning and disinfection, even if they’re tired, especially as the healthcare industry continues to struggle with staff turnover.

EM: I could not agree with you more. I think given staffing challenges and gaps in training, I do expect there to be a lot of discussion or educational sessions around being more efficient. How can we be more efficient as IPs such as, selecting the right disinfectants to use. You want something to be efficacious without compromising the integrity of equipment.

Now that we’ve covered what we expect to be the hot topics, are there any topics that were not covered on the program that you were surprised by, especially as an IP and Epidemiologist?

SP: It’s a great question, and there were a few that I expected to see more of. You mentioned one right away, training gaps. We’re seeing some changeover in the workforce, so how do we keep competencies up to date, especially when we are dealing with pathogens that might require specific disinfection and cleaning products like C. auris?

I also was surprised to not see more about infectious diseases we face and how they impact processes and require us to stay cognizant and up to date on infection prevention protocols and engage with frontline staff.

And another thing that really struck my mind was, how are we doing rounding in terms of cleaning and disinfection?  Rounding is the bread and butter of infection control. We love doing isolation precaution rounding and hand hygiene, but what about cleaning and disinfection? What’s the best way to do that?

After so many years of talking only about COVID-19, one of the big challenges is keeping staff engaged and having those conversations about protocols they may not feel are important. In this vein, I was hoping to see more about how we keep staff informed, engaged and educated. Not by putting things on a bulletin board, but getting them to be champions of these topics.

EM: Those are great adds. We understand there are numerous topics to discuss at APIC, and it’s hard to cover it all in a short window. There is never enough time to do everything we want to do, which brings me to my next question. Do you have any pieces of advice for people attending on how to navigate a conference of this epic magnitude, particularly for people like me who are first time attendees?

SP: The first would be to take notes because as much as you think you’re going to remember things, there are long days, and you are a sponge absorbing all the information.  

The other piece would be to plan ahead. I call it the amusement park experience, where you want to pick your favorite rides first. But, also, try to go outside of your bubble — see a lecture on something that maybe you don’t know a lot about. Even if it’s not your favorite one, it may capture your attention or inspire you to start something new at work.

I also think this is a great opportunity to ask yourself as both an infection preventionist and part of a larger team and industry, where do I want to be in the next six months to year to five years? What programs in my hospital org do I need to improve on? There might be a talk that can give you the answer or at the very least, an opportunity to talk with other infection preventionists, who have experienced something similar or have similar goals.

Use this as an opportunity for growth and development.

EM: I love that. I definitely took notes on what you said as a first-time attendee, I appreciate the advice! With these last few moments, I do want to talk about key takeaways.

Are there any overarching takeaways you think people will or should walk away with this year?

SP: Since we could sit here and talk for hours about them, I’ll only name a couple. As discussed, emerging pathogens — Mpox, C. auris, fungal meningitis — as we are facing these at an increased rate, but also how can we maintain readiness while still conquering challenges like healthcare-associated infections?

Another piece is managing outbreaks. How do we handle evolving requirements in an increasingly complex world? Infection prevention is only getting bigger and more complicated. Therefore, innovation complexities and being ready for the next infectious disease challenge will be a big piece.

Lastly, how do we ensure that our healthcare workers are protected and safe, but also engaged within our teams? How do we move forward within the industry? It’s important to acknowledge not only burnout within healthcare but also within infection prevention teams because we’ve been through a lot the last few years.

EM: I think if people can walk away with those takeaways, it will be an amazing conference. Thank you again for sharing that and thank you again for your time today and giving us your insight into the conference.