Prevent the spread of infectious disease

There are simple things you and your family can do to stop the spread of infectious disease at home, school or in your workplace.

What you can do

As well as maintaining good general health, there are some basic actions that everyone can take to stop the spread of infectious diseases:

Immunise against infectious diseases

Immunisation is a way of preventing infectious diseases. Immunisations are offered to babies, children and adults to protect against serious and preventable diseases. Find out more about getting immunised.

It is important to ensure you are up to date with your immunisations. Check with your doctor or nurse to see if you have had all your immunisations. Are my immunisations up to date?

To read the list of free immunisations and the ages at which they’re recommended check the National Immunisation Schedule.

Influenza – the flu

Influenza is a serious disease that can cause severe illness in some people – it is worse than a cold. Influenza spreads quickly from person to person through touch as well as through the air.

Immunisation is your best defence against influenza. Influenza viruses change from year-to-year, so the seasonal influenza vaccine is made especially each year to cover the strains of the virus most likely to be circulating the following winter. 

Because of this, it is important to have an influenza vaccination each year – it is available from mid to late March until 31 December – but it is recommended before winter.

For pregnant women, those aged 65 years and over and those with certain medical conditions, the vaccine is free. Talk to your doctor or nurse to see if you are eligible for a funded influenza vaccine. Some workplaces may also provide influenza vaccinations for staff.

If you are at higher risk or travelling overseas

There are some extra vaccines that aren’t usually free but are worth considering to make sure you are protected. Some of these are free for those at higher risk of disease.

Talk to your doctor about whether protection from these diseases is a good idea for you.

If going overseas, ask your doctor or a travel doctor whether you need any special immunisations. Read more about what to check in the section on Travelling.

Wash your hands well

How to wash

Washing hands properly is one of the most important and effective ways of stopping the spread of infections and illnesses.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly using water and plain soap.
  • Wash for at least 20 seconds and dry them completely.
  • Using warm water is preferable, if available.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

When to wash

Always wash and dry your hands:

  • before eating or preparing food
  • after:
    • sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose (or wiping children’s or other people’s noses)
    • gardening or outside activities
    • having contact with animals
    • using the toilet or changing nappies
    • looking after sick people.

Stay at home if you are sick

It is important that an unwell person stays at home to stop the spread of the infection to others.

As much as possible, unwell people should keep their distance (at least 1 metre away) from other members of their household to stop them from getting ill as well.

An information sheet on common infectious diseases, how they are spread and signs and symptoms is available on the HealthEd website.

Factsheets and advice on common viruses and infections are available in the A to Z section of Diseases and illnesses.

Unwell child?

Read more about common childhood illnesses and when to keep your child away from school: School exclusions.

If you are concerned about your or your child's health, contact your doctor or Healthline freephone 0800 611 116.

Cover coughs and sneezes

Some infectious diseases can be transferred in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Examples include influenza, measles and chicken pox.

If you are unwell, avoid close contact with other people. Cover your coughs and sneezes to stop spreading the illness to other people.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – then put the tissue in a bin.
  • If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Clean your hands after you cover a cough or sneeze.

Keep household surfaces clean

Some infectious diseases can be spread by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated by an infected person.

Regularly cleaning household surfaces that are frequently touched will help reduce the spread of infections. Some examples of frequently used surfaces include tables, bench tops, door handles, light switches, toys and taps.

Clean surfaces with hot soapy water or your normal household cleaning product. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on correct product use.

Where possible, use disposable cloths or paper towels to clean surfaces. Reusable cloths should be disinfected and then dried after use, as bacteria and viruses can still survive on damp cloths.

Practical tips are listed on the National Health Service website: How to prevent germs from spreading.

Ventilate your home

Poor ventilation in rooms can increase the spread of infectious diseases. Open windows regularly to get fresh air circulating.

If you have air conditioning or a heat pump, make sure the system is maintained and the filters cleaned.

Prepare food safely

It is important that you prepare, cook and store food safely. The Ministry for Primary Industries website has guides on how to prepare food safely at home or work: Food safety for consumers.

Read more information about these food- and water-borne diseases:

Practise safe sex

Read more about preventing the spread of STIs (sexually transmissible infections) at Safer sex and condoms.

A list of resources and Your health topics are listed in the section Sexual and reproductive health.

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