Northside Health Library

Preventing infections when visiting


Infections are illnesses that are caused by germs such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Patients in the hospital are already ill. Exposing them to these germs may make it harder for them to recover and go home.

If you are visiting a friend or loved one, you need to take steps to prevent spreading germs.

The best way to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands often, stay home if you are sick, and to keep your immunizations up to date.

Hand Washing and Alcohol-based Hand Cleaners

Clean your hands:

  • When you enter and leave a patient’s room
  • After using the bathroom
  • After touching a patient
  • Before and after using gloves

Remind family, friends, and health care providers to wash their hands.

To wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands and wrists, then apply soap.
  • Scrub your hands together for at least 20 seconds so that the soap gets bubbly.
  • Remove rings or scrub under them.
  • If your fingernails are dirty, use a scrub brush.
  • Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.
  • Do not touch the sink and faucets after you wash your hands. Use the paper towel to turn the water off and open the door.

You may also use alcohol-based hand cleaners (sanitizers).

  • They may be found in a patient's room and throughout a hospital or other health care facility.
  • Apply a dime-sized amount in the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together, making sure all surfaces on both sides of your hands are covered.
  • Rub until your hands are dry.

Stay Home If You Are Sick

Staff and visitors should stay home if they feel sick or have a fever. This will help protect everyone in the hospital.

If you think you were exposed to chicken pox, the flu, or other infections, stay home.

Remember, what may seem like just a little cold to you can be a big problem for someone in the hospital who is sick. If you are not sure if it is safe to visit, call your doctor or nurse and ask them about your symptoms before you visit the hospital.


Anybody who visits a hospital patient who has an isolation sign outside their door should stop at the nurses’ station before entering the patient’s room.

Isolation precautions create barriers that help prevent the spread of germs in the hospital. They may be needed to protect you or the patient you are visiting.

When a patient is in isolation, visitors may:

  • Need to wear gloves, a gown, a mask, or some other covering
  • Need to avoid touching the patient
  • Not be allowed into a patient's room at all

What Else?

Hospital patients who are very old, very young, or very ill are at the greatest risk of harm from illnesses such as colds and the flu.

  • During the fall or winter, make sure you get a flu shot before visiting someone in the hospital. You need a flu shot every year.
  • Ask your health care provider what other vaccinations you need.

When you visit a patient in the hospital make sure to keep your hands away from your face. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, or into the crease of your elbow, not into the air.


Infection control. In: Mills JE, ed. Nursing Procedures. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 2.

Review Date: 2/26/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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