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Prevention of Infection

By Allan R. Tunkel, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Medical Services; Associate Dean for Medical Education, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

Several measures help protect people against infection.

Hand washing is an effective way of preventing the spread of infectious microorganisms from one person to another. Hand washing is particularly important for people who handle food or who have frequent physical contact with other people. People visiting hospital patients who are seriously ill should wash their hands and may be asked put on a gown, mask, and gloves before entering the patient’s room. Many hospitals also provide sanitizing gels or foams that contain alcohol. Using these agents on the hands before and after touching patients can help prevent the spread of infection.

Sometimes antibiotics are given to people who do not yet have an infection to prevent them from getting an infection. This preventive measure is called prophylaxis. Many healthy people who undergo certain types of surgery—particularly abdominal surgery and organ transplantation—require prophylactic antibiotics.

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent infections. People who are at increased risk of developing infections (especially infants, children, older people, and people with AIDS) should receive all the vaccinations necessary to reduce this risk.