Airborne precautions

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Isolation precautions such as airborne precautions may need to be used to stop the spread of infection. These are additional precautions that need to be taken to help prevent the spread of infections caused by airborne routes of spread of germs.

Key points

  • Different germs can be spread in different ways.
  • The most common ways germs are spread in the hospital are by these main routes:
    • Contact
    • Droplet
    • Airborne
  • Airborne routes of spread occur when small particles are expelled by a person from their mouth or nose and another person breathes them in.
  • These small particles can stay in the air over long periods of time and travel on air currents.
  • Additional safety measures, based on the routes of spread, are needed to help prevent germs from causing harm to others.

Isolation precautions

To reduce the risk of spreading infections, everyone in a hospital must follow certain routine practices, such as cleaning their hands. However, sometimes the spread of infection may not be completely stopped using routine practices. In these cases, additional safety measures called isolation precautions will need to be used. Isolation precautions are used to isolate or keep away germs that can cause harm to others. Different isolation precautions are used based on how specific germs are spread. If these isolation precautions are not followed, germs could spread to other people and may cause them to become ill. There are three main ways or routes that germs can spread in the hospital:

  • by contact
  • by droplet
  • by airborne

Airborne Route

There are additional safety measures that need to be taken to help prevent the spread of infections caused by germs spread by the airborne route.

When an infected person coughs, talks, sings or breathes heavily, particles are expelled from their mouth or nose. Airborne routes of spread occur when these particles stay in the air instead of landing on surfaces. These airborne particles can travel on air currents and be inhaled by others. You can inhale these particles if you are nearby the person who expelled the particles, or even if you are at some distance from them, depending on the air currents. There are two ways to control airborne routes of spread. The first is a special ventilation system that controls how the air flows. The second is the use of N95 respirators. N95 respirators are a special type of mask that can filter out airborne particles. In addition, if the infected person wears a procedure mask, this can help reduce the infectious particles expelled into the air.

Examples of germs that can be spread through airborne routes include germs that cause Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), varicella (chickenpox/shingles) and measles infections. The germ that causes varicella can also be spread by touching the fluid in the rash that is often seen with this infection so the varicella infection can be spread by both airborne and contact routes.

Additional precautions

Additional safety measures to prevent airborne spread include practices to prevent germs spread by breathing them in. These practices include:

  • Hospital staff wearing protective equipment such as an N95 respirator when they enter your child’s room and when they take your child to a test or procedure off the unit. Your child’s nurse will tell you if you or your child need to wear a procedure mask when outside of your child’s room.
  • An Airborne Precautions sign being placed on the outside of the door to your child’s room. This will let hospital staff know the type of protective equipment they need to wear to enter the room.
  • Your child being placed in a room with special ventilation. They will need to stay in their room and will not be allowed to come out of their room for as long as they are in Airborne Precautions, except for tests and procedures that cannot be done in their room.
  • Limiting the number of people who can be with your child at the hospital. Your child’s nurse will let you know how many people can stay with your child.
  • Making sure the door to your child’s room stays closed at all times unless someone is entering or leaving the room.
  • A garbage can being placed at the door inside your child’s room. This will allow staff to remove their N95 respirators as they leave the room.
  • Some medical equipment staying in the room for your child’s use only.
  • Parents and caregivers not having access to the kitchen and other public areas (such as the playroom) on the unit. Also not being allowed to visit other patients or families anywhere in the hospital.
  • Any hospital toys that your child plays with staying in their room.

What you can do

What you can do to help prevent the spread of germs:

  • Clean your hands before and after you touch your child and always before you leave their room.
  • Wear a procedure mask outside of your child’s room if your child’s nurse asks you to.
  • Do not come to the hospital if you are feeling unwell or think you are becoming ill.
  • If your child is being tested for or is diagnosed with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), you can get tested for TB yourself , in consultation with your child’s medical team.
  • Tell your family and friends that your child is in Airborne Precautions. Remind them not to come for a visit if they are feeling unwell or if they have never had varicella or measles in the past or have not been vaccinated against these infections. Your child’s nurse will tell you how many visitors your child can have, depending on why they need Airborne precautions. If your child is being tested for or is diagnosed with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), tell your friends and family not to visit.
  • Do not take your child out of their room without permission from your child’s nurse. Try to stay in your child’s room as much as possible.
  • Your child cannot play with other patients. Bring activities from home that your child would enjoy and ask a Child Life Specialist for other activities that your child can do in their room.
  • If medical equipment needs to stay in your child’s room for your child’s use only, keep it inside of your child’s room until it is cleaned and disinfected by hospital staff.
  • If your child plays with hospital toys, keep them in your child’s room until they are cleaned and disinfected by hospital staff.
  • Keep your child’s room clear of clutter so that hospital staff can clean it better.
Last updated: October 26th 2021