Overview

Infection prevention and control (IPC) is a term used to describe actions that help protect us from infections. You can help prevent and control infections by cleaning your hands often, keeping your living and work environments clean and tidy, getting immunized for vaccine-preventable diseases and by staying home when you are sick.

In healthcare settings, IPC actions help to protect vulnerable people from acquiring health-care associated infections. These types of infections can increase hospital lengths of stay, cause patient health complications and may even result in death.

Help prevent infections

Clean your hands

Over 80% of common infections are spread by our hands.

Germs are a part of everyday life. Some bacteria are beneficial and part of our body's natural protection against disease. Other bacteria and viruses cause disease and are introduced to the body, especially when touching hands to the mouth, nose or eyes.

It is very important to clean your hands often during the day, but most importantly:

  • after using the bathroom
  • after changing a diaper
  • after playing with a pet
  • before eating
  • before and after preparing food
  • after coughing or sneezing into your hand

There is more than one way to clean your hands properly. You can use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Both methods are equally good at removing harmful germs when you use the proper technique and follow some simple guidelines.

How to wash your hands using soap and water

  1. Wet hands with warm water. Apply soap to cover all hand surfaces and lather thoroughly.
  2. Vigorously rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, but 30 seconds is best.
  3. Rub palms, spaces between fingers, backs of hands and wrists. Rub fingers, fingertips and thumbs.
  4. Rinse hands under running water.
  5. Pat hands dry thoroughly with a paper or single-use towel.
  6. Use the towel to turn off the tap.

How to use a hand sanitizer (hand rub)

Hand sanitizers, also called hand rubs, should contain at least 60% alcohol for maximum effectiveness. Hand sanitizers will not work properly if hands are visibly dirty – use soap and water instead.

  1. Apply enough product (either gel, liquid or foam) in the palm of one hand to cover all hand surfaces.
  2. Rub all surfaces of hands and wrists.
  3. Rub fingertips and thumbs.
  4. Hands must remain moist for at least 15 seconds.
  5. Rub until hands are completely dry.

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing

When you cough and sneeze, germs and diseases spread through the air. Germs can travel up to one meter or further if you do not cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

You can prevent spreading your germs to other people or onto surfaces around you –

  • Keep tissues handy and use a clean one to cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze.
  • Do not reuse tissues. After use, discard it in a trash container immediately.
  • Clean your hands immediately with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • If you do not have a clean tissue available, turn away from other people and cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm and not your hand. If you do cough or sneeze into your hand, clean immediately before touching anything.

More things to do

You can also help prevent you and your family from getting an infection or spreading an infection if you:

  • get immunized
  • don’t share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors
  • stay home when you’re sick
  • practice safe sex

IPC for health professionals

In health care settings, IPC actions help to protect vulnerable people from acquiring health-care associated infections.

Below are some resources for general infection prevention and control (IPC) from provincial, national and international organizations and associations.

IPC resources

Provincial

Alberta Infection Prevention and Control Strategy

IPC Standards

Review of Infection Prevention and Control

Alberta Health Services IPC resources

College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta IPC resources

Notifiable Diseases Guidelines

National

British Columbia Centre for Disease Control

Ontario Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee

Infection Prevention and Control IPAC Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada

Canadian Patient Safety Institute

Health Canada

International

Center for Disease Control (USA)

Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, Inc.

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

World Health Organization

IPC environmental cleaning and IPC infrastructure

The provincial, national and international resources below contain information related to IPC principles for environmental cleaning and infrastructure during the construction, renovation, and maintenance of health care facilities. They focus on health care settings, community settings or both.

IPC environmental cleaning resources

IPC infrastructure resources

Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has resources for purchase that address IPC considerations in physical infrastructure.

For examples of IPC infrastructure resources in international jurisdictions, read the United Kingdom Department of Health’s Infection Control in the Built Environment (PDF, 3.8 MB)