How Infections Spread
Before you can prevent an infection, it is important to understand how they are spread.
- Infections are caused by bacteria, viruses and other microscopic organisms.
- These germs are found in the environment (water, soil, air) as well as in and on humans, in our body secretions (stool etc.) and in the tiny droplets that are generated by breathing, coughing, sneezing.
- Infections are spread through different means:
- Germs that cause diarrhea or other infections of the intestinal tract are found in feces. If personal hygiene is insufficient, stool may contaminate hands, food, water, surrounding objects and surfaces.
- The easy spread of intestinal infections is also due to the fact that some of the germs can survive on surfaces and objects for long periods of time.
- Proper handwashing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of intestinal infections.
- Germs that cause colds, strep throats etc. are found in the saliva and secretions of the nose. Colds and other minor infections including the eyes, nose and throat, are the most frequent illnesses in young children.
- When people cough, sneeze, have runny noses, or do anything that spreads droplets of secretions from the respiratory tract, the germs can spread. The germs can then be inhaled, or they may land in a person’s eye, nose or mouth. Indirect spread may also occur because some viruses can survive in the environment (e.g. counter tops) for days at a time.
- Because the respiratory viruses can be found in the nose and throat of children for several days before they show signs of an illness, it is important to follow good infection control practices at all times.
Contact with blood
- The skin offers an excellent barrier when in contact with blood
- Several infections may be spread by direct contact with blood if there is a break in the skin (blood to blood) or direct contact with mucous membranes (i.e. eye, mouth)
- Only a small amount of blood or body fluids can cause infections so whenever any amount of blood or bloody body fluids is noticed, equipment, such as gloves, and proper cleaning and disinfection of exposed objects must occur.
See – Procedure for Cleaning Up Blood or Bodily Fluids on Hard Surfaces
Direct physical contact
- Infections, particularly skin infections such as impetigo and ringworm, are spread by direct physical contact. This is when children play together and one child touches the infected skin area of another child.
- Contaminated objects like toys, towels, even food and water, can also infect people. It is important that all objects are properly cleaned and sanitized and all food/water is from approved sources.
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (2007). Daycare Operator’s Manual. Pg. 3-4.
Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 13 December 2011.