Airborne and Direct Contact Diseases

Airborne diseases are spread through coughing, sneezing, laughing and close personal contact. Contact Diseases are transmitted when a person with the disease has direct bodily contact with a person who does not have the disease, and the microbe is passed from one to the other.


Currently, prevention of new cases is based on following appropriate infection control measures. Recommendations for precautions include:

  • Wash your hands often,
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (use the bend of your elbow, instead of your hands, or a tissue),
  • Avoid close contact (i.e. kissing, hugging, sharing eating utensils or cups) with people who are sick, and when you are sick,
  • Clean and disinfect regularly touched surfaces (doorknobs, countertops, toys, etc.), especially if someone is sick, and
  • Stay home when you are sick.

Airborne Diseases - Cause and Spread

Airborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microbes small enough to be discharged from an infected person via:

  • Coughing,
  • Sneezing,
  • Laughing,
  • Close personal contact, and
  • Aerosolization of the microbe (through sneezing, coughing, etc.).

The microbes remain suspended in the air on dust particles, respiratory and water droplets.

Illness is caused when the microbe is inhaled, contacts the mucus membranes or when the secretions remain on a surface are touched.  

Transmission of airborne diseases can be greatly reduced when implementing these efforts:

  • Practice social and respiratory manners (covering your mouth/nose when coughing/sneezing, etc.),
  • Stay home when ill,
  • Limit close contact with an ill person,
  • Allow a few feet of space between you and others while ill,
  • Wear a mask,
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue can greatly reduce the spread of the diseases,
  • Good hand washing can decrease the spread of the diseases, that could be picked up on hands from surfaces or hand contact with secretions, and
  • Environmental controls and engineering alternatives help reduce transmission of water droplet aerosolized pathogens.

Contact Diseases - Cause and Spread

Contact Diseases are spread when a person with the disease has direct bodily contact with a person without the disease, and the microbe is passed from one to the other.

Contact diseases can also be spread by indirect contact with the personal items of a person with the disease, or in their environment.

The presence of wound drainage or other discharges from the body pose a potential increased risk of spreading the disease and contaminating the environment.

Taking safeguards that create a barrier as well as routines that decrease or prevent the microbe in the environment or on personal items, can aid in preventing the spread of direct contact diseases.

Transmission-Based Precautions


What Healthcare Providers can do to protect themselves

Transmission-Based Precautions are the second tier of basic infection control and are to be used in addition to Standard Precautions for patients who may be ill with certain infectious agents for which additional precautions are needed to prevent the spread/transmission of the disease.

Guideline for Isolation Precautions