About Infection Control

What is Infection Prevention and Control?

There are many different words and phrases which reflect the breadth and depth of the medical specialty of infection prevention and control.
Infection prevention and control is an umbrella term which encompasses a wide range of practices relating to the prevention and control of transmissible infections.
As a speciality, infection prevention and control is closely associated with medical microbiology, on the basis that infections are spread by microbes, or micro-organisms, that are the focus of the microbiology service associated with diagnosing and providing guidance on the treatment of infections with antibiotics.

Due to its association with medical microbiology, and due to the fact that many patients with infections are treated in hospitals, infection prevention and control has been perceived to be a hospital specialty – indeed the term “nosocomial infection” was widely used until recently to describe an infection that was associated with hospital care – a hospital-acquired infection – especially if that infection was acquired as a result of cross-infection from one person to another. The best known examples of nosocomial infections in recent years are MRSA and C. difficile infection (or antibiotic-associated diarrhoea). However, the most common types of nosocomial infections – or those associated with health care – are urinary tract infections (especially when a catheter is in place); chest infections and surgical wound infections. Many of these infections also occur in people that are not in hospital – they may be in their own home or in a care home, for example, and thus the term health care associated infection is more applicable than the term nosocomial.

Health care has changed greatly in recent years, and the specialism of infection prevention and control has subsequently changed to meet the demands of 21st century health care.
It is now widely acknowledged that the term nosocomial or hospital-acquired infection is a misnomer. Healthcare is delivered in a broad range of different health (and social) care environments and thus the term “health care associated infection” has now widely replaced the term “nosocomial” or “hospital-acquired” infection to reflect this change.

When registering to provide health care – whether it is in hospital, a GP surgery, a dental practice, an ambulance or a care home (or a wide range of other environments) ALL providers have to demonstrate that they have systems in place to prevent and control infections. The over-arching expert guidance document is called the Code of Practice on the prevention and control of infections and related guidance (2015) published by the Department of Health.