Preventing the spread of infection is important in everyday life, from us washing our hands regularly at home to strict health and safety measures in the hospital setting. While it’s very important in all of these aspects, it is also particularly important in the nursery environment.

As young children are still developing, their immune systems are not as strong as adults, making them vulnerable to infection. In most cases where there are groups of children together, an infection can then spread easily from one child to another.

Although it might seem like common sense to wash your hands after using the toilet or before handling food, infection policies and procedures need to be strictly taught and adhered to in the nursery setting to protect children from illness and promote good health.

To prevent the spread of infection among children, here is everything you need to know.

How Infection Spreads and How to Prevent it

Most infections are caused by harmful organisms, e.g bacteria or viruses, that can spread from person to person via cross-infection. Usually, we can prevent the spread of infection by identifying obvious ‘germs’ and washing our hands. However, there are a variety of different ways that we can spread an infection without even realising.

Ways an Infection can Spread

Direct Contact

If a person has ‘germs’ on their hands, they can spread this by direct contact with another person. The infection can spread from skin to skin from something as simple as a handshake, cuddling or touching an object that some else then touches.

How to prevent the spread: obviously the more frequently you wash your hands the less likely you are to spread germs, however, it is also down to how thoroughly you wash them each time. Hand washing is particularly important after using the toilet and changing nappies, before handling food and after touching animals.

Airborne or Droplet

If a person has an infection, e.g a common cold, they can spread it through the air by coughing or sneezing. Infections can also spread through the air if a room isn’t properly ventilated.

How to prevent the spread: when coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth to prevent the spread of the infection in the air. Make sure to wash your hands every time after you cough or sneeze and immediately dispose of any tissues appropriately. Always ensure that the nursery has proper ventilation.


Infection can be spread by ingesting or swallowing the harmful bacteria. Again, this goes back to dirty hands, either if a child has put their hands in their mouth after doing something and not washing their hands or if someone has just handled food with dirty hands and a child has eaten the contaminated food. Food poisoning could also be caused by incorrectly cooking food.

How to prevent the spread: thorough hand washing, especially after using the toilet and playing outdoors is a major factor in helping to minimise infection spreading. Always, when handling food, abide by the strict Food Hygiene Procedures, and regularly clean and disinfect all equipment, toys and play materials to ensure a clean environment.

Body Fluids

If a person has an infection, they could also spread it to another through their bodily fluids (e.g blood, urine and vomit). The most common types of infections we know that spread via the exchange of bodily fluids are HIV, AIDS and hepatitis.

How to prevent the spread: always abide by the Standard Infection Control Precautions when dealing with blood, urine and other bodily fluids. Make sure to wear disposable gloves and aprons each time, and immediately dispose of all nappies and blood-soaked dressings in approved waste units. Always make sure to regularly check yourself and cover any cuts or wounds with waterproof, adhesive dressings.

Vectors (Animals)

Some infections can be spread from animal to human, with many spread from insects such as flies and ticks that can be found on animals.

How to prevent the spread: always encourage children to wash their hands frequently, especially after they have been playing outdoors or touching animals. To reduce the risk of spread from insects, keep food covered as well as all waste to try and keep flies out of the nursery.

The Ultimate Prevention Technique: Washing Hands Thoroughly

We have all seen the signs in public bathrooms of how to wash our hands properly and thoroughly, and there is a reason why. Frequent and thorough hand washing is the main way to prevent infection from spreading, especially in the early years setting! By practising this method ourselves and teaching and encouraging the children to do the same, we will promote good health habits.

Health and Safety Measures to Control the Spread of Infection

Once all of these methods are in place and are regularly enforced, the process of preventing the spread of infection will become much easier. All you have to remember is to:

  • Make sure you are familiar with health and safety policies and procedures related to infection control – particularly food hygiene outlined by The Food Standards Agency, waste disposal outlined by The Department of Health, and personal hygiene for both staff and children.
  • Make sure to keep accurate records of reports – you need records of each child in an early year’s setting, including their full name, date of birth, address, emergency contact details, immunisation records, medical history and details of allergies. If a child has an infection, the parents or carers should be notified immediately, as well as the appropriate regulatory organisation (Ofsted or HPA) and all the parents of the other children. Accurate record keeping can help practitioners to take appropriate precautions to control the spread of infection and all information will be kept confidential under the Data Protection Act 1998.

If you abide by the Department of Health Standard Infection Control Precautions, you should create a safe and clean environment that will reassure parents and prevent the spread of infections among children. Just remember to also inform parents of the risks of bringing their ill children into this setting, as this could undo all the health and safety measures that you have in place.


Need More Help with Your Nursery or Health & Safety?

Child Care Health and Safety Wales provides many publications and resources on Health and Safety in a nursery setting, including policy log books and checklists that can be tailored to your business. If you need any advice or guidance on which ones you need, don’t hesitate to get in touch. | 07921 278986