Whether or not a person becomes ill in an early childhood centre depends on three things:

  • The type of germ - some viruses, such as measles and norovirus, are very infectious. others, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are very difficult to spread in early childhood centres (Based on material provided by the Australian  National Health and Medical Research Council)
  • The opportunity for transmission - germs have a greater chance of spreading if, for example, there are inadequate hand-washing facilities, or ill children are not excluded from the early childhood centre (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).
  • The person’s immunity - people who have been immunised against a particular disease, or who have had that disease before, are unlikely to become ill if they come in contact with the disease. People who have not been immunised, or who do not have natural immunity to that disease, have a much higher risk of becoming infected and developing the disease (Source: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).

The way in which a germ spreads is known as its mode of transmission. The modes of transmission that are most likely to affect early childcare centres are described below (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council):

  • Coughing or sneezing (droplet transmission)

    When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets are spread into the air and onto surrounding surfaces. A sneeze can spread droplets as far as 2 metres away. The droplets may be breathed in directly by another person, or another person may touch a surface contaminated with the droplets, then touch their mouth, eyes or nose. Examples of a germs spreading by droplets is the flu viru and meningococcus (Source: Australian National Health Health and Medical Council).
  • Breathing contaminated air (airborne transmission)

    Airborne transmission is different from droplet transmission because the germs are in even smaller particles than droplets, and they can be infectious over time and distance. These very small particles are created when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. The particles can be carried on air currents and through ventilation or air-conditioning systems, so they can infect people who have not had close contact with the source. Examples of airborne germs are the measles virus and the chickenpox (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical research Council).
  • Direct contact (contact transmission)

    Some germs can spread through touching alone. These include head lice (head-to-head contact), scabies and fungal infections of the skin (skin-to-skin contact) (Source: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).

    Germs can spread through contact with infectious body fluids, such as mucus, saliva, vomit, blood, urine and poos. They can enter the body by being swallowed, or through damaged skin or mucous membranes. This means that they can spread if a person touches infectious body fluid then puts their hands in their mouth, or if they prepare and eat food without first washing their hands (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).

    Surfaces such as benches, tables, door handles, toys, bedding and toilets can be contaminated when a person with an infectious disease touches them, or coughs or sneezes on them. If a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose, they can become infected (Source: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).
  • Food

    Germs can live and reproduce in food. If the food is not heated or chilled properly, the germs can spread to the people eating the food and make them ill. Hand washing and following food preparation procedures are important to make sure that germs are not spread through food (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).
  • Animals

    Contact with animals can spread disease. Germs can be present on the skin, hair, feathers and scales of animals, and in their poos, urine and saliva. These germs may not cause disease in the animal, but they may cause disease in humans. Some germs can multiply in insects such as mosquitoes and fleas and spread through the insect’s bite; these insects that carry the germs are known as ‘vectors’ (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Research Council).

Different germs spread in different ways

  • Airborne: the virus that causes measles can stay in the air for up to 2 hours after an infected person has left the room. This means that people can be exposed to the virus without having direct contact with the infected person (Source: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).
  • Contact: Germs such as norovirus and rotavirus can cause gastroenteritis, leading to symptoms of diarrhoea (runny poos) and/or vomiting. It may be obvious that a person can spread the disease while they are unwell, but what is not so well known is that a person may still be contagious up to 10 days after the symptoms have stopped (Based on material provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).
  • Droplets: the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease can be present in people’s throats. If an infected person coughs or sneezes, the droplets they produce can infect other people nearby (Source: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council).


Last updated 6 November 2014.