Isolation precautions


Isolation precautions create barriers between people and germs. They are taken to help prevent the spread of germs in the hospital.

Anybody who visits a hospital patient who has an isolation sign outside their door should stop at the nurses’ station before entering the patient’s room. The number of visitors and staff who enter the patient’s room should be limited.

Different types of isolation precautions protect against different types of germs.

Standard Precautions

You should follow standard precautions with all patients.

When you are close to, or are handling, blood, body fluid, body tissues, mucous membranes, or areas of open skin, you must use personal protective equipment, depending on the anticipated exposure, such as:

  • Gloves
  • Mask and goggles
  • Apron, gown, and shoe covers

It is also important to properly clean up afterward.

Transmission-based Precautions

Transmission-based precautions are extra steps to follow for illnesses that are caused by certain germs. Standard precautions and these extra precautions will both need to be followed. Some infections require more than one type of transmission-based precaution.

Start following transmission-based precautions when the illness is first suspected. Stop them only when the illness has been treated or ruled-out and the room has been cleaned.

Patients should stay in their rooms as much as possible while these precautions are in place. They may need to wear a mask when they leave their room.

Airborne precautionsmay be needed for germs that are so small they can float in the air and travel long distances.

  • Airborne precautions help keep staff, visitors, and other patients from breathing in these germs and getting sick.
  • These germs include chicken pox, measles, and active tuberculosis (TB).
  • Patients who have these germs should be in a special room where the air is gently sucked out. This is called a negative pressure room.
  • Everyone who goes into the room should put on a respirator mask that fits well before they enter the room.

Contact precautionsmay be needed for germs that are spread by touching.

  • Everyone who enters the room who may touch the patient or objects in the room should wear a gown and gloves.
  • These precautions help keep staff and visitors from spreading the germs after touching a patient or an object the patient has touched.
  • Some of the germs that contact precautions protect us from areC. difficileand norovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). These germs can cause serious infection in the intestines.

Droplet precautions are usedto prevent contact with mucus and other secretions from the nose and sinuses, throat, airways, and lungs.

  • When a patient talks, sneezes, or coughs, droplets that contain germs can travel about 3 feet.
  • Illnesses that require droplet precautions include influenza (flu), pertussis (whooping cough), and mumps.
  • Everyone who goes into the room should wear a surgical mask.


Siegel JD, Rhinehart E, Jackson M, Chiarello L, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee,  2007 Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings.

Review Date: 2/26/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.