Did you know that about 5% of people who go into a U.S. hospital pick up something extra — an infection. That results in about 2 million patients who get a hospital-acquired infection every year. And about 90,000 Americans die every year from infections. Some data shows that as much as 13% of patients who get infections die, compared to about 2% of patients who die without having an infection.
More and more hospitals are working harder to stop infections, but bacteria and viruses causing infections mutate and become resistant to antibiotics. But still, research suggests that “more than half the time, health care workers fail to wash their hands as recommended – a critical bulwark against infections identified 160 years ago.”
What can you do to reduce the risk of acquiring an infection at a hospital?
1. Shower and wash your hands with 4% chlorhexidine soap for several days (available at drugstores) prior to going in for a surgery.
2. Ask your doctor if an antibiotic treatment before surgery is beneficial in your case.
3. Work with your medical staff to make sure catheters and intravenous lines are not overused.
4. If an IV or catheter becomes loose or damaged, get it replaced as soon as possible. The site should be kept clean and dry at all times.
5. Wash your own hands frequently – before taking medication, before eating, after going to the bathroom, etc.
6. Many good doctors and other health practitioners wash their hands in front of you prior to examination. If they don’t, ask your health care worker to wash their hands before they come in contact with you if you feel comfortable with doing that. Once “gloved or scrubbed”, your doctor or nurse should not touch doorknobs, cabinets, curtains, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, computer keyboards, and other objects likely to have come in contact with infection causing bacteria or viruses.
7. Ask your doctor for a nasal swab test for MRSA (drug-resistant bug called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) at the admission and discharge time. Research shows that isolating and treating MRSA carriers as done in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, almost entirely suppresses spreading of MRSA.
8. Use hair clippers, not razors, to shave the surgical site – tiny cuts from the razor can get infected.
9. If you have a breathing tube inserted, ask your bed to be raised at least 30 degrees to prevent stomach fluids from backing up into the lungs. Research shows that this measure significantly reduces the risk of acquiring ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP).
10. Ask the doctor to limit the number of aides and medical students in your room.
11. Don’t let your friends and family visit you while they are sick or live with another sick person.
Source: “Dirty Hospitals” article by Katharine Greider published in AARP Bulletin, January 2007.