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Preventing Infections

Preventing the spread of infections

Germs that cause infections can be found on surfaces, in food, water and even in our own bodily substances. However, there are ways to reduce these germs from getting into our bodies and making us, and those around us, sick.

To visualize how an infection spreads from person to person, think of a circular chain. Each link in the chain represents a different factor that can influence the spread of the illness. In order for this illness to spread from one person to another, all of the links need to connect. We call this the ‘chain of transmission.’

There are six links in the chain of transmission. If we break the chain or remove a link at any one point, the infection cannot spread.

This is our aim in infection prevention and control: to break the chain and stop the spread of infections.

To help visualize the chain of infection, please refer to these resources:

Here are some of the ways you can break the chain of infection.

Proper handwashing and hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to stop the spread of germs. About 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch alone. Therefore, practising proper and timely hand hygiene, either by washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub, is essential to helping break the chain of infection.

You can also reduce the spread of illnesses by using proper respiratory etiquette. This means that instead of covering your mouth with your hands when coughing or sneezing, use your sleeve or a tissue. This reduces the number of germs on your hands, though it is still important to wash your hands after coughing and sneezing.

Other things you can do to prevent illness are:

Hand hygiene resources for adults

Community Settings:

Use these posters to promote hand washing messages in community settings


Respiratory Etiquette

Health Care Settings:

For hand hygiene messaging in health care settings, please refer to the Just Clean Your Hands program through Public Health Ontario.

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Hand hygiene resources for children

Handwashing Posters

Handwashing Demonstrations

Handwashing demonstrations are appropriate for students in grades JK to three.

Demonstrations may be conducted in the following ways:

  1. Pretend to wash hands using the 6 step methodOR
  2. Conduct handwashing demonstration using washable paint or glow germ and a black light.

    Glow-germ is a special lotion which is rubbed on participants hands and under the black light participants are able to visualize glowing 'germs'. Glow-germ is a memorable way to demonstrate how germs are spread and how important it is to wash hands properly.

Resources to Reinforce Handwashing Messages

Handwashing Videos

For Grades JK to One

Be Germ Smart  Produced by: Saskatoon Health Region (4:49)

Handwashing for Young Children  Produced by: Eastern Ontario Health Unit (3:06)

Handwashing with Soap and Water - for Kids  Produced by: Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit (1:50)

Hand Washing for Kids - Get Rid of Germs Learn How to Wash Your Hands (Billy Gorilly)  Produced by: Independent (3:07)

Washy, Washy, Clean Produced by: Health Promotion Board (1:06)

For Grades Two to Three

Hand Hygiene: The Dirt on Germs  Produced by: Eastern Ontario Health Unit (3:44)

Germ Smart Kids - How To Wash Your Hands  Produced by: Saskatoon Health Region (5:05)

Hand Hygiene: Germy the Germ Gets Washed Away! (3:03)

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Preventing respiratory infections

Respiratory infections are spread by droplets in the air from when people cough or sneeze. If these droplets enter your eyes, nose or mouth, you may become sick with the same infection. Germs that cause respiratory infections can also live on surfaces for hours or days, and infect anyone who touches the surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.

There are many contagious respiratory (breathing) infections, caused by viruses, that can infect the nose, throat and lungs; including influenza, enterovirus and rhinovirus and can result in mild to severe illness. Young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for becoming very ill, as they may develop other illnesses, such as pneumonia, and require hospitalization.

Typical symptoms of respiratory infections include:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

You can catch a respiratory illness any time of the year, but infections are more likely to occur during the colder, dryer seasons. In Canada, “flu season” usually happens between November and April.

How to avoid getting and spreading respiratory infections

You and your family can avoid getting and spreading respiratory infections by:

  • Keeping healthy, by eating healthy foods, being physically active and ensuring your immunizations are up-to-date
  • Getting your seasonal flu shot when it becomes available in early November
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Washing your hands often, with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when your hands appear to be visibly clean and soap and water are not available
  • Coughing and sneezing into your sleeve or a tissue and not in your hand
  • Throwing away used tissues immediately and cleaning your hands
  • Not touching your face
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
  • Staying home when you are sick
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Related Resources


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