Information alert

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The spread of infections 

Infections in hospital can be spread in different ways:

  • By touching or being in contact with an infected person;
  • By contact with contaminated equipment or the environment around a patient;
  • By airborne dust, droplets of moisture or aerosols.

Stopping an infection spreading

Infections can spread easily in hospitals and patients, visitors and staff may be at risk. For infections with a particular risk of spreading – such as diarrhoeal disease, MRSA, tuberculosis and chicken pox – special care must be taken to stop the infection being passed on. An infected patient may need to be cared for separately from other vulnerable patients. This is called isolation. The aim of isolation is to prevent infection spreading to others. Sometimes an infected patient will be isolated in a separate room, at other times it is possible to care for the patient on the ward with additional precautions. Hand hygiene and cleaning is important to prevent the spread of infection. Isolation will be continued until there is no longer a risk of the infection being spread to others.
Where the infection may be spread through the air, a patient may be cared for in a room with specialised ventilation. Such rooms do not let potentially infected air out of the door and are called “negative pressure rooms”.

Advice for a patient isolated in a single room

If you have an infection that could be spread to other patients or staff you will generally be transferred to a single room:

  • You will have to stay in the room. The door of your room should be kept shut at all times to help reduce the spread of infection.
  • The nursing staff will tell you if you are allowed out of your room.
  • Your single room will often have its own bathroom or, if not, you will be given a commode to use.
  • Staff will wear an apron and gloves when attending to you.
  • Staff may wear masks if it is necessary.
  • You must not share personal items, food or equipment with other patients.
  • If you have a wound, do not take off your dressing to show your wound to visitors.
  • Sometimes you may be moved from isolation in a single room to being isolated on the open ward. This will not be done without careful consideration.

Please tell us if:

You feel lonely and fed up because you are not in contact with other people for a period of time; this feeling is not unusual and we can help you cope. We do appreciate that being cared for in isolation may be frustrating and difficult at times.

You have any concerns about the standard of cleaning in your room.

Advice for a patient isolated on a ward

Sometimes it may not be possible or appropriate to move an infected patient to a single room. If this is the case you will be isolated on the ward:

  • Being isolated does limit what you are able to do on theward. The nursing staff will tell you what you can do andwhat precautions that have been put in place.
  • You will either have a designated bathroom and toilet or you will have a commode assigned to you.
  • Staff will wear an apron and gloves when attending to you.
  • You must not share personal items, food or equipment with other patients.
  • If you have a wound, do not take off your dressing to show your wound to visitors.

When isolation is no longer necessary

Following treatment of the infection, isolation may no longer be necessary and you will be moved to the open ward or discharged. The room or bed space will be cleaned before it is used by another patient.

Discharge from the hospital or transfer to another hospital

Sometimes patients remain in isolation until the time of their discharge. If a patient is to be transferred to another hospital, the staff at the accepting hospital will be notified.

A patient may be discharged from isolation to their home. This is because the infection does not have the same risk in a non- hospital setting and it is not necessary to take the same precautions at home. However, if a relative or carer is helping with washing a patient or dressing a wound, it’s important they wash their hands before and afterwards. Bed linen and clothes can usually be washed as normal in a domestic washing machine. If you need to continue taking special care at home, you will be told so by the hospital staff before you leave.

Isolation to protect a vulnerable patient from infection

Some patients are isolated to protect them from infection. This is done when their immunity (the ability to fight infection) is low and they are at increased risk of infection. Examples are patients on chemotherapy for cancer or leukemia or following bone marrow transplantation. This is called protective isolation.

The patient will be isolated in a room which does not allow potentially infected air into the room; this is called a “positive pressure room”.

If you need protective isolation:

  • You will have to stay in the room. Your single room willhave its own bathroom.
  • The door of your room should be kept shut at all times toprotect you from infection.
  • Staff will wear an apron and gloves when attending toyou.
  • You must not share personal items, food or equipmentwith other
  • patients.
  • You need any assistance by using your call bell.

Advice for visitors

If you are visiting a patient who is being isolated:

  • Please check if there are restrictions on visiting prior toyour visit. This is especially important if you have a medical problem which makes you vulnerable to infection.
  • If you are pregnant speak to the nurse in charge beforevisiting.
  • If you are unwell you should not visit.
  • If you have a rash you should not visit.
  • If you have had diarrhoea and/or vomiting, you should be symptom-free for at least 48 hours before your visit.
  • If you have a heavy cold, flu or a chest infection, do not visit until the symptoms go away. This is particularly important if you are visiting Oncology, Haematology, Transplant, Neonatal Unit or Intensive Care Units.
  • If you have an open wound it should be covered with a clean, waterproof dressing.
  • Ideally, children should not visit. Any children visiting must be supervised at all times. Children must be discouraged from crawling on the floor.
  • When arriving on the ward, you must wash your hands with soap and water or use the alcohol rub.
  • You do not usually need to wear aprons or gloves unless you are helping to care for a patient or will be visiting other patients on the same day.
  • If the infection is spread through the air, you may be required to wear a mask; staff on the ward will tell you if this is necessary.
  • Do not sit on the bed. Use a chair.
  • Do not use the patient toilets.
  • Do not eat or drink on the ward.
  • If another patient requires assistance, please contact a member of staff.
  • You can protect yourself when leaving the room or bed area by washing your hands with soap and water. In addition, you may use the alcohol gel which is positioned outside each room.

Contact Details 

Infection Prevention & Control Team

5th floor central

250 Euston Road



Telephone: 0203 447 9716

Where can I get more information?

Department of Health


UK Health Security Agency (UK HSA)


Page last updated: 23 May 2024

Review due: 30 June 2025