4.2. Explain the causes and spread of infection in care settings

Qualification: Level 2 Diploma in Care
Unit name: Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Care Settings
Learning outcome: 4. Be able to reduce the spread of infection
Assessment criteria: 4.2. Explain the causes and spread of infection in care settings


Care settings are more susceptible to outbreaks of infection than other environments such as an office or at home because there is often close contact between individuals (including contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, urine etc.), large numbers of individuals occupy the same environment and individuals receiving care may be more vulnerable to infection.


Therefore it is important that you have a thorough understanding of the causes and spread of infection so that you can reduce the likelihood of an infection outbreak.

Infections are caused by harmful organisms called pathogens. Examples of pathogens are bacteria, viruses or parasites. When pathogens enter the body, they can cause illness and even death.


The chain of infection describes the sequence of events that causes infection to spread. Infection can be stopped at any of these points, therefore breaking the chain.

  1. Infectious agent – the pathogen
  2. Reservoir – the environment where the pathogen resides (e.g. inside the body, in water, on dirty surfaces)
  3. Portal of exit – how the pathogen leaves the reservoir (e.g. sneezing/coughing)
  4. Means of transmission – how the pathogen can be passed on (e.g. touch, eating/drinking)
  5. Portal of entry – how the pathogen gets into the body (e.g. inhalation, ingestion, open wound)
  6. Host – an individual that is at risk of infection or able to carry the pathogen

The chain can be broken at several points, so it is important to work in adherence to your employer’s agreed ways of working as these will describe best practice for reducing the spread of infection.


For example, if bins are emptied regularly, it will remove the reservoir in which pathogens can live. If hands are washed regularly and disposable gloves are used, it reduces the likelihood of infections being transmitted by touch. If facemasks are used, it reduces the chance of pathogens being spread by inhalation.



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