Written by Josh Glover
11 Oct 2023

12 Common Sources of Infection in Hospitals

Where do hospital-acquired infections come from? The obvious answer is hospitals… But what about the most common sources within the healthcare environment?

Hospitals can be breeding grounds for various pathogens, making it vital for all healthcare workers to be well-informed about the transmission risks.

This short guide aims to explore 12 common sources of infection in hospitals and offers practical tips to mitigate these risks. Whether you’re working in infection prevention and control, nursing, leading a department, or portering, you can use this tool to be better equipped for reducing infection risks and creating a safer environment for all.


1 / What are pathogens?

2 / 12 Common sources of infection in hospitals.

3 / Waste management that minimises infection risk.


What Are Pathogens?


A pathogen is an organism or entity responsible for causing diseases. It’s often referred to as an infectious agent, or in simpler terms, a germ.

To survive and thrive, a pathogen requires a host. Once inside the body (the host), a pathogen strategically establishes itself eluding the immune responses and using the body’s resources to reproduce. It then exits the host, seeking a new one to infect.

You could liken it to an uninvited guest who lets themselves into your home. They manage to disarm your security system before getting comfy on your sofa and eating your food. They then invite their friends over and when your home’s in pretty rough shape, they move onto next door.

The methods of pathogen transmission vary based on the type, it can occur through direct skin contact, bodily fluids, airborne particles, contact with faeces, or by touching surfaces contaminated by an infected individual.

The four most common forms of pathogens are:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Parasites


12 Common Sources of Infection in Hospitals


The sad truth about hospitals is that there are MANY sources of infection but when all healthcare workers are on the same page and follow best practices, transmission risks can be minimised. To help in that regard, here’s a non-exhaustive list of the most common sources of infection in hospitals to be aware of:


Poor Hand Hygiene

Healthcare workers’ hands have the potential to be one of the biggest sources of infection in hospitals, acting as carriers of infections when proper hand hygiene practices aren’t followed. Regular handwashing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers is crucial in preventing the spread of infections via hands.


Hospital Surfaces

Frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, bed rails, and countertops can become hotspots for harbouring pathogens – insufficient cleaning and disinfection of contaminated surfaces can lead to the persistence and spread of those pathogens. Regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces to reduce the risk of transmission.


Contaminated Medical Instruments

Improperly sterilised or cleaned medical instruments can harbour harmful pathogens, posing a significant risk to patients during procedures. Ensure strict sterilisation and decontamination protocols are followed where appropriate and the adoption of single-use instruments when necessary.

Inadequate Waste Management

Improper handling and disposal of clinical waste, including incorrect segregation of infectious waste, can contribute to the spread of infections in healthcare settings. Educate staff on the correct management of all healthcare waste.


Airborne Pathogens

Airborne pathogens such as viruses and bacteria can spread through the air in healthcare facilities, especially in areas like isolation rooms or during certain medical procedures. Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary to protect yourself and others.


Contaminated Food

Foodborne illnesses can spread in healthcare settings if food safety measures are inadequate or aren’t followed. Ensure proper storage, handling, and preparation of food at all times to protect patients and staff.


Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens

The misuse or overuse of antibiotics can lead to the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, posing a serious threat to patient safety and causing serious infections. Always prescribe antibiotics judiciously and implement antimicrobial stewardship programs.


Water Systems

Improperly maintained water systems such as cooling towers and plumbing can harbour Legionella bacteria, leading to the potential for infections like Legionnaires’ disease. Regular maintenance and monitoring of water quality are essential preventive measures.


Poor Patient Isolation Practices

Failing to isolate patients with infectious diseases appropriately can lead to the transmission of pathogens within the hospital setting. Follow isolation protocols diligently to prevent outbreaks.


Visitors and Cross-Contamination

Visitors who are unaware of proper hygiene practices can inadvertently introduce pathogens into the hospital and potentially transmit infections to patients. Encourage visitors to adhere to infection control guidelines.


Lack of Proper Training

Inadequate training of healthcare workers in infection prevention and control measures can increase the risk of transmission within the hospital. Regularly update staff with relevant training and guidelines.


Sharps Injuries

Improper disposal or handling of sharps can lead to injuries among healthcare workers and patients, increasing the risk of infections and exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Introduce safety-engineered devices such as ISO-compliant reusable sharps containers to prevent injuries and reduce infection risk.


Waste Management That Minimises Infection Risk


At Sharpsmart, we understand the importance of infection prevention and control and the urgency of training healthcare workers to understand and follow the appropriate measures. Our solutions always reflect our mission to make healthcare safer and that’s why our services never end at the waste compound. We work with you within the four walls of your organisation to get the most out of your healthcare waste management.

A proactive approach to waste management will aid infection prevention and control measures and contribute to both staff and patient safety, creating a safer and healthier environment for all.

If you’d like guidance on waste management solutions that prioritise safety and minimise infection risk whilst providing blended learning for healthcare workers, please get in touch.


Speak To A Waste Expert


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Josh Glover

Josh Glover

Content Specialist

As a natural storyteller driven by curiosity, Josh aims to educate and engage through informative and thought-provoking content; working towards a safer and more sustainable healthcare system.