Stopping the movement of pathogens

Microorganisms cover every surface around us. Most are harmless but some microorganisms, called pathogens, can cause harm.

The simplest way to prevent disease is to stop pathogens from spreading. This means using simple measures such as good hygiene and effective sanitation to contain pathogens and dispose of them safely.

Measure to contain the movement of pathogensHow it works
Clean waterHomes, work and public places are supplied with water which contains no pathogens.
PlumbingHomes, work and public places are provided with plumbing and drains to safely remove faeces and waste which can carry pathogens.
Clean surfacesWashing surfaces with disinfectant kills bacteria and fungi.
Personal health and hygieneWashing with soap removes substances which trap pathogens as well as pathogens themselves from the skin. Use tissues to catch sneezes and coughs. Dispose of them as soon as possible as pathogens can still be alive.
Treating woundsClean and cover wounds to keep them sterile. This protects from fungi, bacteria, protists or viruses.
Food preparationSome bacteria form spores that survive high temperatures and then grow again. This is why it is important to avoid contamination in the first place. Keep food cold so bacteria and fungi reproduce more slowly. Prepare food hygienically to avoid contamination from pathogens by washing hands well with soap and cleaning work surfaces with products such as bleach to kill pathogens. Cook food well (long enough at high temperature) to kill bacteria and fungi.
Using condomsSexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea (caused by bacteria) and AIDS (caused by human immunodeficiency virus, HIV) can be reduced by using condoms. Condoms reduce the risk of body fluids from one person entering the other during sex.

When it goes wrong

Sometimes the spread of disease gets out of control. This can lead to:

  • an epidemic if many individuals in a population have it, or
  • a pandemic if it spreads over a wide geographical area