Droplet/contact precautions

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Isolation precautions such as droplet/contact 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 droplet and contact 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
  • Droplet routes of spread occur when droplets containing germs are expelled by a person from their mouth or nose and come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of someone nearby.
  • Contact routes of spread occur when droplets containing germs land on surfaces and someone touches that surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Additional isolation precautions , 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 who goes to the 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 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

Droplet and contact routes

There are additional precautions that need to be taken to help prevent the spread of infections caused by germs spread by the droplet and contact routes.

When an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes, or when they have procedures such as suctioning, bronchoscopy or nebulized therapy done on their respiratory tract, droplets containing germs can be made and expelled from their nose and mouth.

The droplets usually travel no more than 2 metres (about 6 feet). If an infected person standing next to you coughs on you, the droplets made by the cough can contact your eyes, nose, and mouth. These droplets may carry the germ that the infected person standing next to you has and now you may have this germ as well.

But droplets do not remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. The droplets will fall onto surfaces around the infected person, usually within a 2 metre (about 6 feet) range. The surfaces the droplets land on will become contaminated by the germs contained in these droplets. Many of these germs can stay alive for hours to days. Contact spread can then occur when someone touches a surface that is contaminated by droplets that contain germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Additional precautions

Additional precautions to prevent both droplet and contact spread include practices to prevent germs spread by both droplets and touch. These practices include:

  • Hospital staff wearing protective equipment such as gowns, gloves, procedure masks and eye protection every time 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 need to wear protective equipment as well.
  • A Droplet/Contact 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 needing to stay in their room and not being able to come out of their room for as long as they are in Droplet/Contact Precautions, except for tests and procedures that cannot be done in their room.
  • A garbage can and linen hamper being placed at the door inside your child’s room. This will allow staff to remove their gowns and gloves before 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.
  • Sometimes having your child’s room cleaned more than once per day.

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 protective equipment 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.
  • Tell your family and friends that your child is in Droplet/Contact Precautions. Remind them not to come for a visit if they are feeling unwell. Try to limit the total number of people coming to visit your child.
  • 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