Infections are common in children and often lead to illness. Children first enter early childhood education and care services when their immune systems are still developing. They may not have been exposed to many common germs that cause infections and they may be too young to be vaccinated against some diseases.
What causes infection?
Microscopic living things (known as germs) are all around us. Some of these germs can cause disease in people. There are four major types of germs:
- Bacteria are found almost everywhere, including in and on the human body. Most bacteria live in close contact with us and our environment causing no harm.
- Viruses can only grow and reproduce inside other living cells, called their host. Most viruses cannot survive long outside their host cell.
- Fungi are a group of organisms that include yeasts and mushrooms. They prefer to live in damp, warm places.
- Protozoa are microscopic living things that thrive on moisture and often spread diseases through water.
These four types of germs handle many human infections, but parasites such as roundworm and hookworm can also cause infections.
How do infections spread?
The chain of infection refers to how germs spread. All the steps in the chain need to occur for germs to spread from one person to another. By breaking the chain, you can prevent and control infections. You can break the chain at any stage.
The chain of infection
The germ has a source. A person picks up germs directly from an infected person, or from the environment. The germ spreads from the source. There are three major ways germs can be spread:
- by infected droplets (from a person or animal) being spread in the air
- by germs in body fluids such as saliva, blood or urine contaminating a surface
- by tiny particles spread into the air. Germs can survive on hands and on objects such as toys, door handles and bench tops.
Germs can be spread in different ways:
- Droplet: germs are spread when an infectious person coughs or sneezes. The tiny droplets are spread into the air and onto surrounding surfaces. A sneeze can spread droplets as far as two meters away. Droplets can be breathed in directly by another person.
- Airborne: the germs are in even smaller particles than droplets. These particles are spread when an infectious person breathes, talks, coughs, or sneezes. The particles can be carried on air currents and through ventilation or air conditioning systems.
- Contact: surfaces such as benches, tables, door handles, toys, bedding and toilets can be contaminated when a person with an infectious disease touches them, or coughs or sneezes on them. If a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, eyes, nose, or broken skin, they can become infected.
How can you stop infections?
There are many things you can do at home to stop the spread of infection:
- perform hand hygiene
- keep up to date with your immunization
- remember cough and sneeze etiquette
- clean surfaces regularly
- keep unwell children at home as much as possible.