Protective Isolation: What Is It and Why Do I Need It?
Our immune system keeps us healthy by fighting organisms from our everyday environment, like bacteria and viruses, which could possibly harm us. However, when we are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system), common organisms become a threat since our bodies are unable to fight them off.
This is when protective isolation is helpful. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff practice protective isolation to make sure that patients with weakened immune systems are not exposed to organisms that could potentially lead to infection and serious complications. If you are admitted to the hospital and are under protective isolation, here are actions that the staff will take to protect you.
You may be given your own hospital room. The staff will take steps to keep your room clean during your stay. This may include:
- Cleaning surfaces, such as tabletops and doorknobs, with damp cloths and detergent
- Cleaning equipment with alcohol wipes or water and detergent
- Making sure the room is properly ventilated
- Keeping only necessary furniture and equipment in the room
- Stocking the sink with hand hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, soap, paper towels, and gloves
- Changing bed sheets, towels, and other linens daily
- Mopping floors daily
- Keeping the door to your room closed
- Removing fresh flowers and plants from the room
Hospital Staff and Visitors
Hospital staff and visitors, like your family and friends, may be dressed in protective clothing when they enter your room in some cases. They may be wearing disposable:
- Aprons or gowns
- Shoe coverings
- Hair nets
In addition to protective clothing, staff and visitors will clean their hands, by either washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, before entering. Studies have shown that hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases.
Your doctor or nurse may want to limit the number of visitors you receive. They may also discourage small children from visiting. These precautions are in place to lessen the chance of exposure to different viruses and bacteria. Those family and friends who do visit should be certain that they are not sick. Even the mildest symptoms can put you at risk, so it is important that visitors are healthy.
Steps You Can Take
Aside from precautions that staff and visitors will take, there are things you can do to prevent infections from transmitting to you, and vice versa:
- Wash your hands properly before and after eating and using the bathroom.
- If the nurse says it is okay, bathe daily. If you need help with this, the staff can assist you.
- When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Put the tissue in the trash right away. Visitors should also be asked to do this when they are around you.
You may need to follow a special diet while you are in the hospital. Your nurse or dietitian will work with you to provide meals specific for weakened immune systems. For instance, you may only be able to drink bottled water or specially filtered water and pasteurized juices, since these are less likely to have bacteria. Also, you will use eating utensils and dishes that have been properly sanitized, or you may be given disposable utensils and dishes to use.
Your doctors, nurses, and other staff want to ensure that your hospital stay is both comfortable and safe. Strict protective isolation procedures are in place for your protection. If you, your family, or friends have any concerns or questions about the procedures, be sure to talk to the staff.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Canadian National Occupation Health and Safety Resource
Ebola (ebola virus disease). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/healthcare-us/hospitals/infection-control.html. Updated September 3, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2017.
Guidance for the selection and use of personal protective equipment in healthcare settings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/pdfs/ppe/PPEslides6-29-04.pdf. Accessed March 1, 2017.
Landelle C, Pagaini L, Harbarth S. Is patient isolation the single most important measure to prevent the spread of multidrug-resistant pathogens? Virulence. 2013;4(2):163-171.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 3/1/2017