Infection Control

The Chain of Infection

The Infectious Agent is the micro-organism (such as bacteria, fungi and parasites) which cause diseases.

The Reservoir is the place where the infectious agent (micro-organism) can live, grow and re-produce. Examples of a reservoir are people, animals, water and food.

The Means of exit is the way the infectious agent leaves the reservoir. Examples of this include blood, excretions (faeces and vomit) and secretions (mucus, saliva, tears and bile).

The Mode of transmission is how the infectious agents are transmitted from one person to another. This happens through physical contact with another person or object, through airborne droplets (e.g. coughs, sneezes) or contact with bodily fluids.

The Portal of entry is how the infectious agents enters the body of a person. Pathogens can enter the body by being breathed in or eaten, coming into contact with broken skin, eyes, nose or mouth.

The Person at risk is someone who has increased vulnerability to infection. For example, elderly people, infants and those who are immunocompromised.

Breaking the chain of infection

Preventing infection means breaking the links in the chain so that an infection cannot spread. Some links are easier to break than others. For example, it is easier to stop a pathogen from entering a person than it is to stop one leaving an infected person.

The steps taken to protect individuals and workers from infection are an important part of providing high quality care and support. It is vital to remember that not everybody who carries harmful micro-organisms will be ill or show any symptoms, so you must work in ways that prevent infection at all times. Standard precautions are the actions that should be taken in EVERY situation to reduce the risk of infection.

Hover over the images below to find out what these include:

Good hand hygiene
Safe disposal of waste
Safe management of laundry ­
Correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is an important part of preventing infection. Hands can be cleaned, or decontaminated by:

  • Washing with water and soap that removes dirt and germs from the hands but doesn’t kill them
  • Using alcohol hand rubs and gels which kill most bacteria. If hands are visibly dirty these rubs and gels will be less effective against Clostridium difficile and some viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

The World Health Organisation has identified ‘5 moments’ when health and social care workers should clean their hands. These moments are:

  1. Before touching the individual you are supporting.
  2. Immediately before carrying out a ‘clean’ procedure.
  3. After exposure to body fluids and after removing gloves.
  4. After touching the individual you are supporting.
  5. After touching the area or objects surrounding the individual you are supporting.

For hand washing to be effective it is important that you make sure that every part of your hands are carefully washed, rinsed and dried. The steps below show you how to ensure that your hands are washed correctly:

  1. First, wet your hands and wrists thoroughly using warm running water.
  2. Apply liquid or foam soap.
  3. Produce a good lather by rubbing your palms together, then interlock your fingers and rub together again.
  4. Rub the palm of your hand ensuring that fingertips and fingernails are cleaned. Ensure that the backs of your hands are lathered and cleaned.
  5. Rub with fingers locked, maintaining a good lather. Ensure that your wrists are cleaned.
  6. Rinse hands thoroughly using running water.

Hands and wrists should be thoroughly dried using paper towels or a hand dryer, and turnoff the tap with a paper towel. Rubbing and lathering your hands should take around 20 seconds.