10 Principles of Infection Control: Minimizing the Risk of Infection

Infection control is a critical component of healthcare, and the 10 infection control principles provide a comprehensive framework for preventing and managing infectious diseases.

These principles advise healthcare workers, patients, and the general public on how to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the safety of all parties involved.

These principles, if effectively implemented, can help protect the health of individuals, communities, and healthcare facilities.

What is infection control?

Infection control is conscious acts carried out to prevent the spread of infections in healthcare settings.

Infection control is a practical, evidence-based approach to preventing patients and health workers from being harmed by infections.

It entails being proactive at all levels of health systems. Defective infection control can lead to increased death rates, and without it, it is impossible to achieve quality healthcare delivery. There are more than 5 basic principles of infection control.

10 principles of infection control

Why is infection control so important?

Infection control is necessary because there has been a rise in the number of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI). In January 2021, NHS England estimated that 18% of COVID-19 cases were hospital-acquired.

Infection control helps to reduce the spread of both known and unknown pathogens.

Germs are part of our daily life. They are found in the air, soil, water, and in our bodies, so we can safely say that germs are a part of us and these germs cause infections that can be transmitted through agents which include susceptible persons, and different surfaces that are prone to touch.

People can be infected with a particular disease and not even know it. Such people would pass it to another person. So, infection control is very important.

It is particularly important in the healthcare environment because germs thrive in the healthcare environment. This makes Infection control important in every healthcare facility.

Principles of infection control

This includes an assessment of how infections can be spread and how they can be prevented and stopped.

Principle I: Hand Hygiene

Even though it looks easy, it is the backbone of the principles of infection control. All health care practitioners must engage in regular washing of hands.

The use of water and plain soap may be employed in dental examinations and non-surgical procedures. Scrubbing of hands should be done for at least 20 seconds while paying close attention to specific areas like in between fingers, back of hands, and underneath the fingernails.

Alcohol-based hand rubs and hand antiseptics may be used for specific healthcare settings.

WHO outlined 5 key principles for hand hygiene

  • Before touching a patient
  • Before performing a clean/antiseptic procedure
  • After bodily fluid exposure to risk
  • After touching the patient
  • After touching the patient’s surroundings.

Principle II: Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to equipment that is worn by healthcare workers, designed to help protect them and their patients from contact with pathogenic infections.

PPE includes gloves, masks, gowns, respirators, face shields, and eye protection.

When to use PPE

  • In situations involving the care of patients with infectious or contagious diseases.
  • When a healthcare worker is to perform an aerosol-generating procedure like chest physiotherapy, nebulizer therapy, and non-invasive ventilation.
  • In situations where healthcare workers handle hazardous materials such as harmful chemicals or sharp objects
  • When a healthcare worker is working in an area with a high risk of infection such as in laboratories or isolation centers.
  • In situations where there would be contact with body fluids. Healthcare workers should be trained to do the following when handling PPE:
  • Avoid touching the face
  • Restrict contact with surfaces
  • Remove PPE when leaving infectious regions
  • Observe proper hand hygiene.

PPE should be checked for defects that may compromise its effectiveness.

Principle III: Environmental infection control

The environment for patients and healthcare staff must be safe. Sometimes an area may look clean, but a lot of harmful microorganisms could dwell on its surfaces.

Healthcare workers should ensure that hospital rooms should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

There are many places that such microorganisms could inhabit. Such places include door knobs, tables, and railings. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on such surfaces probe to pathogenic contamination.

Reusable equipment such as stethoscopes and hemostats should be cleaned and disinfected before contact with another patient.

During the process of cleaning, the right cleaning tools, products, and disinfectants should be used. Every healthcare facility should have a stern cleaning protocol and stick to it.

Principle IV: Respiratory hygiene

An appropriate respiratory practice is aimed at minimizing the transmission of various respiratory illnesses, and pathogens such as influenza or COVID-19.

The following habits should be practiced

  • Cover the nose and mouth with disposable tissues /elbow while coughing or sneezing. The nose should be wiped with a tissue if the mucus is involved.
  • Dispose of the tissue in a waste bin after use. On no occasion should it be kept for future use.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals showing symptoms of a respiratory infection.
  • Masks should be offered to those with symptoms of respiratory infections.
  • Also, wearing a face mask in public is an encouraged practice.

Principle V: Immunization

Immunization involves the administration of vaccines to uninfected individuals to protect them against disease. Immunization is very effective in curbing the spread of infection in a population. Vaccination makes it difficult for a disease to spread.

Healthcare workers may receive vaccines based on their specific work environment or diseases that they are at high risk of.

Principle VI: Safe injection practices

Infectious diseases can be transmitted between a patient and healthcare personnel, or between two patients during the preparation and administration of injections.

Safe injection practices are observed to ensure that injections do not cause harm to the patient it is being administered to, the healthcare official, and the people around.

Safe injection practice is essential in preventing the spread and control of infections that can be transmitted via needles, such as hepatitis and HIV.

The following are guidelines healthcare workers should follow to ensure safe injection preparation and administration.

  • Avoid injecting through visibly infected areas, or areas with visible skin abrasions
  • Use a new, sterile needle for the administration of each injection.
  • Avoid using the same syringe and needle to administer injections to multiple patients.
  • Avoid inserting a used syringe into medication that would be used for other patients, even in the case of administration of the same medication.
  • Wearing protective gloves when administering injections.
  • Avoid recapping needles after administering medication to prevent pricking yourself with an infected needle.
  • Needle safety equipment should be used immediately after administering medication through an injection.
  • Properly dispose of used needles and syringes in containers that are puncture-resistant.
  • Prepare injections in a clean environment, and observe aseptic techniques during preparation.

Principle VII: Safe management of Equipment

Any equipment launched into any healthcare facility is willed for medical purposes. Each instrument should come with a full-service collection and members of the facility are to undergo sufficient training on cautious ways to use those instruments.

Medical instruments can be a source of cross-infection. Mostly, those instruments involve touching both the caregiver and the patient, like a thermometer.

With advances in technology, it is recommended that when new instruments are introduced, they should be optimized for infection control.

Questions like:

  • Does it reduce the production of hazardous waste?
  • Does it get rid of touch?
  • Can it be sterilized and used for other patients?

Hospital linens can be another means of transmitting infections from one patient to another. During the process of storing, the clean linen should not be mixed up with soiled, contaminated linen or other items.

The place where they are stored should be kept clean too, away from dust and other things that can breed microorganisms.

Damp linens should not be stored either, instead, they can be sun-dried.

Infected linen should be put into a water-soluble bag as soon as possible and should be clearly distinguished, and disposed of.

Principle VIII: Clinical waste management

In health facilities, there are various types of waste. This ranges from household waste to contaminated waste, then to high-risk dangerous waste (needles, medical equipment, body fluids).

This waste should be separated and properly disposed of.

Principle IX: Placement and Infection Assessment

Before a patient is admitted into the Healthcare facility, he/she should be assessed for infections as well as throughout their stay in the facility.

This will help in making decisions on the kind of treatment that should be carried out.

  • Patients with diarrhea or vomiting
  • Patients with an unexplainable fever
  • For COVID-19 identification, health practitioners may put the loss of taste or smell; fever, and a new persistent cough as primary symptoms

Principle X: Education and training

Health staff should be educated on how to identify common infections, and help curb their spread. This should be done by continuing education on the principles of infection control. This should include on-the-job training and off-the-job training.

What next?

The role of the principles of infection control cannot be overemphasized because it cuts across all aspects of health, and affects it. Likewise including hand hygiene, surgical site infections, injection safety, antimicrobial resistance, and how hospitals operate during and outside emergencies

Principles of Infection control in the healthcare system, if effective, are very capable of reducing the risk of patients and practitioners getting infected to the barest minimum.

There should be standard precautions for all patient care and transmission-based precautions to tackle known or suspected infections.


What is a basic principle of infection control when providing care to an individual

Hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, masks, eyewear), respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette. these are also known as the 3 universal precautions.

Hand hygiene is a practice that involves the washing of hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and soap. this combination helps to remove bacteria and other germs. The use of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves acts as a barrier against the invasion of infectious agents.

While respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette involves covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and the subsequent disposal of the used items.

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Last Updated on April 11, 2023 by Our Editorial Team

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