Infectious diseases often spread when bacteria, viruses, or other germs are passed from person to person, for example, through touching, kissing, or coughing and sneezing near uninfected people.

Infectious diseases can be caused by:

  • Bacteria – These one-cell organisms often help humans (e.g. by aiding with digestion), however some are responsible for diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis and are treated with antibiotics.
  • Viruses – Even smaller than bacteria, viruses cause a multitude of diseases, e.g. the common cold or flu. Antibiotics cannot kill viruses; they are treated with antiviral medication.
  • Fungi – Many skin diseases, such as ringworm and athlete’s foot, are caused by fungi.
  • Parasites – A parasite is an organism that lives on or inside another organism and some of them can spread diseases, e.g. malaria.

There are simple things you and your colleagues can do to stop the spread of infectious disease in your workplace (and at home!)

  1. Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is widely acknowledged to be the single most important activity for reducing the spread of disease, although many of us don’t wash our hands thoroughly enough after using the bathroom, handling food or animals, or coughing/sneezing.

Remember to wet your hands thoroughly and lather soap for at least 20 seconds on the front and back of your hands, in-between fingers, and under nails. Always ensure hands are dried completely after washing and use warm water whenever possible

2. Cover your mouth and nose

Many diseases are spread through coughing and sneezing – remember, germs can travel 3 feet or more!

If you are unwell, you should avoid close contact with others (try to stand at least 1 metre away) and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Keep tissues handy at home and work to catch coughs and sneezes and always throw away once used. Wash your hands after coughing/sneezing into them or using a tissue.

3. Stay home if you are unwell

It’s important not to fall into the trap of ‘presenteeism’ when unwell, as this risks spreading the illness to others (which could have a negative impact on the business at large) and extending your own recovery time due to lack of rest and recuperation.

When you are unwell, don’t shake hands, hug, or touch others. You might also call ahead for any medical appointments to see if there’s anything you can do to avoid infecting others in the waiting room.

It is OK to accept deliveries such as food/medical supplies, so long as you avoid close contact with the person dropping the items off.

4. Prepare food safely

Many of us eat or prepare food at work, so it’s important to thoroughly wash and dry your hands before preparing food, after touching raw food (including fruits and vegetables), and after eating.

When cooking or re-heating food, always follow the instructions on the label and/or check your food is piping hot in the middle. This helps to kill certain germs such as salmonella and E.coli.

Don’t re-heat food more than once and ensure your fridge is kept at the right temperature for food storage (between 0°C and 5°C).

5. Keep work surfaces clean

Some infectious diseases can be spread by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated by an infected person. Regularly cleaning your work surfaces (such as desk, tables, printers, door-handles and kitchen surfaces) will help reduce the spread of infections.

Clean surfaces with hot soapy water or your normal household cleaning product. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on correct product use. Reusable cloths should be disinfected and then dried after use, as bacteria and viruses can still survive on damp cloths.

Want to refresh your employees’ memories on how to prevent infectious diseases? Try our new short-course, ‘Preventing the Spread of Infection’ which details best practice and hygiene standards to minimise the risk of spreading viruses and other infections in the workplace. This course is part of our health and safety suite.

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