Airborne precautions must be used where there is a risk of transmitting microorganisms via aerosols that are generated by coughing, sneezing, talking, shouting, vomiting, and even breathing, and can remain infectious over time and distance when suspended in air (eg transmission of measles, varicella, tuberculosis, influenza or COVID-19).
In addition to standard precautions, including hand hygiene, airborne precautions include:
- appropriate immunisation of staff
- use of appropriate personal protective equipment (see Personal protective equipment), including:
- filtering respirators as appropriate or as directed by health departments during outbreaks. Standard surgical masks are less effective for protecting against smaller particles.
- eye protection (including face shield, if needed) where splash is likely
- implementation of processes to minimise exposure to other patients (eg arranging at the end of the day after other patients have left or making a home visit, segregating into a separate area such as a spare room, requiring the infectious patient to wear a surgical mask)
- ensuring that all reusable equipment is cleaned or reprocessed before use on the next patient
- communicating the patient’s infectious status to other health professionals involved in the patient’s care (eg the primary health care nurse, or ambulance and emergency department staff if being transferred to another healthcare facility) so that appropriate transmission-based precautions can be maintained.
Note: During a respiratory infection outbreak, follow advice on infection prevention and control from national and state or territory health authorities, as well as accessing up-to-date guidance from expert groups such as the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science. Office-based spirometry may be discontinued during a respiratory pandemic or restricted to specialised facilities with a negative-pressure room and/or appropriate ventilation. Where appropriate to perform (eg in nonfebrile patients at low risk), precautions may include the use of full personal protective equipment.