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Preventing the spread of infections

It's not always possible to avoid catching an illness, but there are ways to reduce your risk and to prevent infections spreading to others. Please see below for information on the most common infections and how to prevent the spread of these.

Standard precautions

Standard precautions are essential components that reduce the risk of the transmission of micro-organisms. They offer protection to both client/patients, staff and their families from developing an infection, as well as preventing the spread of healthcare-associated infection (HCAI), which can occur if standard precautions are not applied. The spread of infection can have significant implications for health and social care settings.

All staff involved in patient care must implement the standard infection control precautions as routine. This will reduce the risk of transmission of infection and contamination of the environment. The use of standard precautions will protect themselves, client/patients and visitors from micro-organisms from recognised and unrecognised sources. It is the responsibility of an employer and individuals within an organisation involved in providing care to be educated about the standard precautions of infection prevention and control. Standard precautions include:

  • Hand hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Safe handling and disposal of sharps
  • Safe handling and disposal of linen
  • Decontamination of equipment and the environment
  • Waste management
  • Management of spillages
  • Respiratory hygiene
  • General asepsis

Further information can also be found in the Standard Precautions for Infection Prevention guidelines, which can be found in the Dudley Formulary.

Vaccine preventable infections

After clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention in the world for saving lives and promoting good health. Vaccines protect us, our children and loved ones from serious and potentially fatal diseases. Please visit the immunisations page for further information. 

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a common childhood illness. It usually gets better by itself within a week without needing to see a GP. It is possible to get chickenpox more than once, although it’s unusual. Children need to stay away from school or nursery until all the spots have crusted over. This is usually 5 days after the spots first appeared.

Check if it's chickenpox

  • Chickenpox starts with red spots
  • They can appear anywhere on the body and the spots fill with fluid
  • These blisters may burst
  • They might spread or stay in a small area

Other symptoms

Your child might get symptoms before or after the spots, including:

  • A high temperature above 38C
  • Aches and pains, and generally feeling unwell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chickenpox is very itchy and can make children feel miserable, even if they don’t have many spots

Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu) is a highly infectious disease caused by influenza viruses. The influenza virus attacks the respiratory tract (the ear, nose and throat). Although most people recover from flu within a week, for some people the infection is more serious and leads to complications. Flu may require treatment in hospital and can be life threatening especially in the elderly, people with heart or chest disease, reduced immunity and those in poor health.

The virus is mainly spread by respiratory droplets in the air produced by coughing or sneezing. You are at your most infectious within the first 5 days of becoming ill. The virus can live on hands and surfaces for around 24 hours. It can also be caught by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. That is why it is so important to clean surfaces within the home.

Norovirus

Norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It causes diarrhoea and vomiting and can be very unpleasant, but it usually clears up by itself in a few days. Usual symptoms of Norovirus are:

  • Suddenly feeling sick
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs

These symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to 2 or 3 days. You can normally look after yourself or your child at home. Try to avoid going to your GP as Norovirus can spread to others very easily. Call your GP or NHS 111 if you’re worried or need some advice.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a contagious infection that mostly affects young children. It’s easily treated with antibiotics. The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature of 38C or above and swollen neck glands (large lump on the side of the neck). A rash appears a few days later.

Check if your child has scarlet fever

  • A pink-red rash comes out, which feels like sandpaper and looks like sunburn. It starts on the chest and tummy
  • A white coating also appears on the tongue. This peels, leaving it red and swollen (“strawberry tongue”)
  • The rash doesn’t appear on the face, but the cheeks can be flushed

GPs can often diagnose scarlet fever by looking at the tongue and rash. Your GP will prescribe antibiotics. These don’t cure scarlet fever, but they will help your child get better quicker. They also reduce the risk of serious illnesses, such as pneumonia. Scarlet fever lasts for around a week. Your child is infectious from up to 7 days before the symptoms start and until:

  • 24 hours after they take the first antibiotic tablet
  • 2 weeks after symptoms start, if they don’t take antibiotics

Shingles

Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it. It is caused by the reawakening of the chickenpox virus. Roughly 1 in 4 people who have had chickenpox will go on to develop shingles. People tend to get shingles more often as they get older and the older you are, the worse it can be. If you are aged 70 or 78 years old you are eligible for the shingles vaccine. Additionally, those eligible within the last 3 years can also get the vaccine up until their 80th birthday. If you are eligible for the vaccine or aged between 70-80 years of age and are unsure, please contact your GP practice. 

Symptoms of shingles include pain, followed by a rash which looks similar to chickenpox. This rash will develop into itchy blisters and after a few days, these blisters will turn into scabs. Pain can vary from mild to severe and may be experienced as a dull, constant or as a burning sensation. Shingles normally lasts around two to four weeks and usually affects a specific area on just one side of the body. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, some sufferers can’t even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.

Breaking the chain of infection presentation

The aim of this simple learning resource is to help you to visualise how infections are spread and how hygiene helps to break the chain of infection. Infectious diseases exert a heavy toll on our health and prosperity, but much of this could be prevented through good hygiene. Reducing this burden of infection cannot happen without reducing the spread of harmful microbes in our homes and everyday lives. Preventing infections must be everyone’s responsibility.