Standard Precautions

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: December 06, 2023

Standard precautions are the basic steps taken to stop the spread of germs and illness. Standard precautions should be used by all healthcare providers with every patient, in all patient care settings. There may be times as a patient that you need remind your health care provider to follow standard precautions to protect yourself and other patients.

Examples of standard precautions are:

  • Hand Hygiene (Handwashing):Hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. Hand hygiene can be done using an alcohol-based hand gel/foam or by using soap and water. If you can see dirt on your hands, you should wash with soap and water. Your health care provider should perform hand hygiene when entering and exiting every patient care area (exam room, hospital room, chemotherapy infusion room), before and after touching you, and after removal of gloves. Although you are not the healthcare provider, it is important that you and your loved ones perform hand hygiene as well to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Respiratory Hygiene: Respiratory hygiene keeps you safe from coughing and sneezing, which can spread germs. Cover your nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, with either your elbow or a tissue. If you use a tissue, it should then be thrown away in the trash. After covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or tissue, hand hygiene should be done.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE is worn by health care providers to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of germs to other patients and staff.

PPE includes gloves, face shields, surgical masks, goggles or glasses, respirator masks, and gowns. Your health care provider will put these on when needed. After taking off any PPE, hand hygiene should be done.

  • Injection Safety:Your provider will practice safety when giving an injection. Being stuck by a needle that has been used can spread bloodborne pathogens (infections in the blood) from the patient to the healthcare provider. It is important that needles only be used once. Used needles must be thrown out right away into a container made for the disposal of syringes and needles. Many needles have a safety feature that pulls the needle into the syringe once the medication is given.
  • Medical Equipment/Environmental Cleaning/Waste Disposal:Standards are set in every patient care facility for the cleaning of equipment, linens, and treatment areas. Visibly soiled (dirty) equipment and spaces should be cleaned with the correct chemical agent or detergent. One-time use equipment, such as probes placed on thermometers should be thrown away after use. Linens should be changed after use in an exam room and as often as needed (at least once a day) in a hospital room. Trash should be thrown away properly. Any piece of trash that has bodily fluid on it should be thrown away in a trash can meant for clinical waste (often red).

If you have symptoms of certain infections, you may be placed on "isolation precautions." Types of isolation precautions are:

  • Contact.
  • Droplet.
  • Airborne.

Each type of precaution uses different protective equipment. You may be placed on one of these types of precautions until further testing can either rule out or confirm the infection. The types of isolation precautions are explained below.

Contact Precautions

Contact precautions are used when there is a possible or confirmed infection that would spread by direct or indirect contact with the patient or the patient’s environment. Contact precautions may differ between inpatient and outpatient centers, depending on the guidelines at that center.

A patient placed on contact precautions should be moved to a private room. Health care providers and visitors will need to wear gloves and a gown for any interaction with the patient, including being in the patient’s hospital room. The gowns and gloves should be thrown away properly when leaving the room, followed by hand hygiene. When going back into the room, a clean gown and new gloves should be worn.

Contact precautions are needed for:

  • MRSA – Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
  • VRE – Vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
  • C. diff – Clostridium difficile (Hand hygiene must be done with soap and water. C. diff is a spore that cannot be removed with use of an alcohol-based gel or foam).

Droplet Precautions

When you talk, sneeze, cough, etc., small air droplets come from your mouth or nose that can spread germs to others. Droplet precautions are used if the person will be within 3 to 6 feet of the infected patient. The pathogens are not infectious over a long distance, so no special handling of the air is necessary. However, a private room is suggested, along with the use of a disposable (single-use) mask by all visitors and health care providers. When you leave the room, the mask should be removed and thrown away, and hand hygiene should be done. If a patient is traveling outside of their room, they should wear a mask to prevent spread to other patients and staff.

Droplet precautions are needed for:

  • Influenza (Flu).
  • Viral Respiratory tract infections, including adenovirus, parainfluenza, rhinovirus, and RSV.
  • Pertussis.
  • Rubella.
  • Mumps.
  • Covid-19.

Airborne Precautions

Airborne precautions are used for patients who have an infection that stays infectious over long distances when in the air. Patients placed on airborne precautions will be moved to a negative pressure room. A negative pressure room has a ventilation system, where air is removed from the room and does not enter into the hallway or into any other rooms. The door to the room must be kept closed. This prevents the spread of pathogens that can remain in the air for long distances.

Before entering the room, all visitors and providers must put on a respirator mask, which you should be properly fitted for. The mask should be thrown out after leaving the room and hand hygiene should be done. A gown and gloves may also have to be worn and then removed before leaving the room. The respirator mask should always be removed after exiting the room. Patients will be asked to wear a mask when traveling outside of their care room.

Airborne precautions are used for:

  • Measles – Rubeola.
  • TB - Tuberculosis.
  • Herpes Zoster – Disseminated Shingles (Actively open skin sores. If the sores are crusted and healing, only contact precautions are needed).

Broussard IM, Kahwaji CI. Universal Precautions. [Updated 2023 Jul 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2016. Transmission-based precautions. Taken from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2018. Standard precautions. Taken from

Douedi S, Douedi H. Precautions, Bloodborne, Contact, and Droplet. [Updated 2023 Sep 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

World Health Organization. Health-care facility recommendations for standard precautions. 2007.

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