Expert Health Articles

Basics for Preventing the Spread of Infections

Colleen Abrams, Infection PreventionistColleen Abrams, Infection Preventionist

With new medications, technology and all of the diseases we hear about, we can’t forget basic actions we can take every day to help prevent and reduce the spread of infections.

Hand hygiene is defined by Wikipedia as “the act of cleaning one’s hands with or without the use of water or another liquid or with the use of soap for the purpose of removing soil, dirt and/or microorganisms.”

Hand hygiene, or simply put, washing your hands, is one of the most important things you and your family can do to prevent illness. Clean hands can help protect you from infectious and food-borne illnesses. If you get sick, it can keep you from passing your illness onto others.

Hand washing protects your health by helping to remove dirt and germs that get on your hands during almost any activity.  If you don’t wash your hands, the germs on them can get into your mouth, nose, eyes, cuts and scrapes, even your food, and make you sick.

Hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of infections caused by organisms such as MRSA or Clostridium difficile.

It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wash your hands BEFORE:

  • Eating
  • Feeding someone else (children, the ill, the elderly)
  • Handling/cooking foods
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses
  • Touching a bandage or cut/scrape
  • Taking care of a sick person

Wash your hands AFTER:

  • Eating
  • Working
  • Playing
  • Touching animals
  • Using the bathroom
  • Changing diapers
  • Handling garbage
  • Coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose
  • Touching blood or other body fluids

This action (hand washing) is often cited as the most important “tool” to help fight infections. So develop good habits around hand hygiene for a healthier YOU.

Respiratory etiquette is another practice that we all need to practice to help prevent the spread of diseases. To help stop the spread of germs, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Discard of your used tissue in a trash can. If you don’t have a tissue handy, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands. And then, wash your hands with soap and water or a waterless hand sanitizer! Respiratory etiquette can help prevent the spread of diseases such as influenza and the common cold.

Stay home when you are sick! When you have a bug, it is best for you to stay home and get rest so that your immune system can fight it. It is also best for everyone else if you do not “share” your illness with them. So try to stay home when ill, and limit contact with others.