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Universal Precautions against Infection



  • Universal precautions are guidelines you can follow to help prevent the spread of infection.
  • If you are caring for someone with an infection, you need to practice good hand washing, wear masks, gloves, and protective clothing, and dispose of needles and syringes and other waste products separately and safely.
  • Ask your healthcare provider what else you should do to stay safe at home while caring for a person with an infection.
  • For cleaning, ask your healthcare provider or local health department what products are safe to use at home.


What are universal precautions?

Universal precautions are guidelines you can follow to help prevent the spread of infection. Follow certain guidelines if you are caring for someone with an infection such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), influenza (flu), pneumonia, or COVID-19.

Infections are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can be spread through:

  • Body fluids such as blood, saliva, mucus, pus, semen and other sexual fluids, urine, and bowel movements
  • Droplets breathed, sneezed, or coughed out from the nose or mouth
  • Skin to skin contact
  • Sexual contact

What precautions should I follow when caring for a person with an infection at home?

Hand washing

  • Wash your hands right before and after each contact with the person. Also, if wearing gloves, wash your hands right after you take off your gloves.
    • Wet your hands with warm running water and add soap.
    • Rub your hands together to make a good lather. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
    • Keep rubbing your hands together for 20 seconds. Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice or the "ABC" song.
    • Rinse all of the soap off your hands under warm running water.
  • If you get blood or body fluid on your hands or any other part of your body, wash right away.

Dry your hands using a paper towel. Use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. Avoid touching your face as much as possible.


  • Wear latex or polyurethane medical gloves when:
    • You touch the person's nose, mouth, genital area, rectum, or infected areas of skin.
    • You touch body fluids such as blood, bowel movements, urine, drainage from a wound, saliva, mucus, phlegm from a cough, or vomit.
    • You handle items soiled with blood or body fluids such as clothing, bed linens, or towels.
    • You clean or bandage an open sore.
    • You give medicine to a person for whom you are caring with a needle or a feeding tube, or if your hands will be near their mouth, such as when you help them swallow pills.
    • You are touching and discarding tissues, napkins, dressings, diapers, or other waste material.
    • You clean up an area where the person has been such as the bedroom or bathroom.
  • If a glove gets torn or damaged, take your gloves off and wash your hands. If you are not done caring for the person, put on new gloves.
  • Put new gloves on each time you care for the person.
  • Do not wash gloves. Throw them out after each use. Put gloves soiled with blood in a separate trash bag, not in with regular trash.

Gloves do not take the place of hand washing. Always wash your hands after you take the gloves off.

Protective clothing

  • Wear a surgical mask and protective eyewear during any task that may expose you to blood, saliva, nasal mucus, phlegm from a cough, or other body fluids. This protects your mouth, nose, and eyes from infection.
  • Wear a disposable gown or apron when blood or body fluids may splash.

Safe use of needles

  • Use disposable needles if you can.
  • Do not bend needles or try to put the cap back on them.
  • Discard needles as directed by your healthcare provider. Put used needles in a puncture-proof container. Don’t let the container get too full.
  • If you accidentally stick yourself with a used needle, wash the area right away with soap and running water or use a hand sanitizer. Contact your healthcare provider right away. You may need to be tested for infection or given prompt treatment.

Disposal of waste products and washing of soiled linens

  • Put gloves, tissues, or other waste items soiled with blood or other body fluids in a separate bag from your regular trash. The bag should be sealed and leak-proof. For example, use 2 bags, putting one inside the other.
  • Check with your healthcare provider and local health department before you pour blood or other body fluids down the drain or toilet. Clean the drain or toilet afterwards. Be very careful not to splash any of the blood or fluid on your skin or nearby surfaces.
  • Wash all linens including cloth gowns and aprons, or clothing soiled with blood or other body fluids, separately from other laundry. Use detergent and germicide and dry with a clothes dryer.

Guidelines for killing germs with germicides

  • Use chemical germicides registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has tested these products to make sure that they do kill germs.
  • Ask your healthcare provider or local health department what products are safe to use at home.
  • Use these products according to the directions on the label. Some germicides are very strong and may build up fumes or catch fire if not used correctly.

Separate space in the house

  • Whenever possible, a person with an infection should stay in a separate part of the house and use a separate bathroom. The person should try to stay away from other family members until your healthcare provider says it’s OK to return to a normal household routine.
  • Clean common surfaces often including light switches, door knobs, table tops, and remote controls.
  • Take care of yourself and other family members to avoid getting sick. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you may have about the care you’re providing or about your or your family’s health.
  • Ask your healthcare provider what else you should do to stay safe at home while caring for a person with an infection.
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-01-11
Last reviewed: 2020-12-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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