Jefferson Health Northeast


Prevention of Infectious Diseases


Prevention is the key to stopping the spread of many infectious diseases, and sometimes can make the difference between life and death. Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. Unfortunately, improper or infrequent handwashing continues to be a major factor in the spread of disease. Other important ways to prevent infection include following the appropriate immunization schedule and using precautions with pets and on the job.



At home or work, wash your hands often - and properly:

  • Use warm water.
  • Wet your hands before applying soap.
  • Rub your soapy hands together for at least 10 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly to remove all soap.
  • Turn off water with paper towel.
  • Dry your hands with an air-dryer or a clean paper towel.

Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and make sure everyone in your family does too - especially children.

Wash your hands just before eating or preparing food and immediately after touching anything that might contaminate your hands.

How often should I wash my hands?

Hands should be washed often - more frequently than most people do. Because bacteria and other germs cannot be seen with the naked eye, they can be anywhere. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing is especially important when:

  • Preparing food
  • Before meals
  • After using the restroom
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • When hands are dirty
  • When someone around you is ill


Immunization is key to preventing disease among the general population. Vaccines benefit both the people who receive them, and the vulnerable, unvaccinated people around them, because the infection can no longer spread. In addition, immunizations reduce the number of deaths and disability from infections, such as whooping cough and chickenpox.

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to stay up-to-date on certain vaccinations, including tetanus and diphtheria. In addition, those adults who have never had chickenpox or measles during childhood (nor the vaccines against these specific diseases) should consider being vaccinated. Childhood illnesses such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox can cause serious complications in adults.

Pets & Infectious Diseases

Proper care of your pet may prevent him/her from becoming ill and infecting the household. Further, to prevent the spread of disease from your pet, take the following precautions:

  • Keep your pet's immunizations current.
  • See a veterinarian regularly with your pet for health checkups.
  • Keep your pet's bedding and living area clean.
  • Feed your pet a balanced diet and avoid having your pet eat raw foods or drink out of the toilet.
  • Clean cat litter boxes every day. Pregnant women should avoid touching cat litter, because it may contain infectious diseases that cause birth defects, including toxoplasmosis.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching animals or cleaning up animal waste.
  • Washing hands is especially important after handling reptiles, because reptiles may harbor a bacteria called salmonella. Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, characterized by up to a week of diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people who contract salmonella will have symptoms from four to seven days and recover without treatment.

Wild Animals & Infectious Diseases

Wild animals and insects can be carriers for some very serious diseases, including rabies, tetanus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the hantavirus, and the plaque. Animal bites and scratches, even when they are minor, may become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites may carry disease. Cat scratches, for example, even from a kitten, may carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection. Bites and/or scratches that break the skin are even more likely to become infected.

Immediate care for animal bites:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water under pressure from a faucet, but do not scrub - this bruises the tissue.
  • If the bite or scratch is bleeding, apply pressure to it with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding.
  • Dry the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing, but, do not use tape or butterfly bandages - they can trap harmful bacteria in the wound.
  • Call your physician or healthcare professional for guidance in reporting the attack and to determine whether additional treatment, such as antibiotics, a tetanus booster, or rabies vaccination is needed.
  • If possible, locate the animal that inflicted the wound. Some animals need to be captured, confined, and observed for rabies. Do not try to capture the animal yourself; instead contact the nearest animal warden or animal control office in your area.
  • If the animal cannot be found, if the animal was a high-risk species (skunk or bat), or the animal attack was unprovoked, the victim may need a series of rabies shots.

Infectious Diseases on the Job

The healthcare professionals that take care of you are exposed to many different illnesses and diseases. By taking proper precautions, these healthcare professionals protect both themselves as well as their patients. The following are some of the basic precautions that can decrease the risk of infectious disease exposure in a healthcare setting:

  • Proper disposal of needles into specific sharps disposal containers is very important. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), US Department of Labor, most needle stick injuries occur during the following five activities:
    • When disposing of needles
    • When administering injections
    • When drawing blood
    • When recapping needles (not allowed)
    • Handling trash and dirty linens
  • Each year, healthcare providers in hospitals suffer nearly 800,000 needle stick injuries.
  • It is important to use protective barriers such as rubber gloves, gowns, and eye and face protection.
  • Soiled linen should be bagged or put into a separate container at the location where it is used. Persons touching soiled linen should wear gloves and other protective garments.
  • Some hospital waste, from areas such as the laboratory, pathology, and items such as blood and sharp items require special precautions when being disposed of. However, the majority of hospital waste is deemed no more hazardous than residential waste.

Occupational exposure to infectious diseases including tuberculosis, can also occur outside of a healthcare setting. Another, more obscure disease - psittacosis - affects people who come in close contact with an infected pet bird, such as in a pet store. Ask your physician what additional precautions you can take to avoid infectious exposure.