How to break the chain of infection

Infection prevention is vital to the healthcare sector. It is important that all staff in clinical practice have a good understanding of the chain of infection and how microorganisms proliferate, particularly to help control and prevent the spread of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs). Here, we explain the six principles that form the chain of infection, and what healthcare employees can do to help break the chain – including a focus on hand hygiene moments to limit transmission.

What is the chain of infection?

The spread of infection in healthcare can best be represented as a chain, along which microorganisms can be passed from a source to a vulnerable person. These are the six points that form the chain:

  1. Infectious agent (the pathogen that causes diseases)
  2. Reservoir (the environment where the pathogen lives such as people or medical equipment)
  3. Exit portal (the way the infectious agent leaves the reservoir, for example via coughing, sneezing, saliva, or open wounds)
  4. Means of transmission (the ways the infectious agent can be passed on, for example via direct contact, ingestion or inhalation)
  5. Portal of entry (the way the infectious agent enters a new host, through broken skin, mucous membranes, the respiratory tract or via a catheter)
  6. The host (someone at vulnerable or at risk of infection, for example a patient with a chronic illness or one who has undergone major surgery)

How can healthcare employees help break the chain of infection?

Healthcare employees should be familiar with guidelines and procedures to help prevent and control the spread of HAIs. We all have a part to play in breaking the chain and healthcare staff have an especially important role. Simple ways to stop the spread of infections include:

  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Using personal protective equipment in the right way
  • Staying up to date on all recommended vaccinations including annual flu vaccines
  • Staying at home when sick
  • Using antibiotics carefully to prevent antibiotic resistance
  • Cleaning and disinfecting the environment regularly
  • Sterilizing medical instruments and equipment
  • Following safe and hygienic injection practices
  • Monitor air pressure to ensure a clean air environment
  • Use HEPA filters to remove airborne particles
  • Monitor pest control

How the five moments of hand hygiene can help stop the spread of infection

Step four of the chain of infection is ‘means of transmission’, where best-practice hand hygiene can make a major difference. According to the World Health Organization, appropriate hand hygiene can prevent up to 50% of avoidable infections acquired during health care delivery, including those affecting the health work force1.

Using certified hand soap and hand sanitizer to thoroughly clean hands of microorganisms is one of the most simple and effective ways of keeping everyone safe in healthcare environments. The Five Moments of Hand Hygiene approach breaks hand hygiene protocol down clearly and succinctly for healthcare staff. It details the five moments when performing hand hygiene is critical:

  • Before touching a patient
  • Before a clean/aseptic procedure
  • After body fluid exposure risk
  • After touching a patient
  • After touching patent surroundings

Further education on infection prevention

If you’d like to explore hand hygiene education in more detail, Tork has a plethora of resources specifically designed to support healthcare employees. Check out Tork Clean Hands Training, an award-winning VR resource designed to inspire and engage staff to clean their hands thoroughly and regularly.

Additionally, Tork Clean Hands Training for Care Homes offers hand hygiene guidance specifically for those who work in a care home environment.

Of course, surface hygiene is another important element of infection prevention. Our Interactive Clean Hospital Training can help you achieve optimal hygiene results in hospital environments.

1 WHO: Key facts and figures