5 Ways to Prevent Hospital Infections

According to Hospitals and Health Networks, 2 million people acquire a hospital infection annually, an estimated 30 percent of which are preventable. These statistics hit close to home for me. Several years back, my grandfather entered a hospital for leg bypass surgery, only to find himself with a Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) infection, commonly referred to as a Staph infection. Ultimately, the infection led to amputation after the procedure. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that hospital-acquired bloodstream infections are a leading cause of death in the US and that 250,000 patients contract infections from catheters annually. Protecting yourself against potentially terminal infections might be easier than you’d think. Following are a few precautions you can take that might just save your life.

1. Know your hospital and doctor’s infection rate.

You have every right to ask. If they’re hesitant to disclose this information, you may want to consider other options. Each state has a different law regarding the reporting of hospital-acquired infections. Find what information is available in your state so you can do the most thorough research possible.

2. Ask questions.

Ask if an antibiotic is indicated for your procedure; if it is, confirm that you'll receive it an hour before the first incision. This is usually standard, but if the hospital is busy, it may be overlooked. Ask to be kept warm during surgery, as studies show your immune system is impaired if your body falls below 96.8 degrees. Ask that your glucose levels are monitored during and after surgery. Patients with controlled glucose levels are better equipped to resist infection. Ask any question you think is important. You’re best prepared to protect yourself if you’re well informed about your procedure and after-care.

3. A week before entering the hospital, get tested for S. aureus.

These bacteria live on many skin surfaces, especially around the nose, mouth, genitals and anus, and cause several types of infections, and can be transferred through touch. S. aureus often contaminates stethoscopes, so ask your doctor to wipe the diaphragm (or flat surface) with alcohol prior to use. The test is simple and painless, usually done with a swab.

4. Wash your hands and remind medical providers and support staff members to do the same.

You may feel it’s condescending, but it’s better to be safe than infected. Bacteria are mostly spread through touch, and rigorous hygiene is the hallmark of infection prevention. Anyone who touches the surfaces in your rooms needs to take precautions. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are highly effective in removing bacteria. Remember: gloves are not an alternative to hand-washing. If your doctor puts on gloves without washing his hands, the gloves are no longer clean.

5. Be meticulous with your catheter.

Urinary tract catheters are often placed at the beginning of surgery, which means you just may wake up with one in place. Talk to your doctor about your other options. While an adult brief or bedpan may sound unappealing, they’re safer than exposure to a bladder infection. Another topic to discuss with your doctor, before surgery, is antibiotic-impregnated coatings for central line catheters—also known as central venous catheters (CVC). Since CVCs are used when people are in critical condition, you most likely won't have the opportunity to discuss this at the moment it is needed. The Institute for HealthCare Improvement formulated a group of “evidence-based interventions” that, when applied together, decrease the risk of catheter infection. They include: hand hygiene, maximum barrier precautions upon insertion, chlorhexidine skin antisepsis, optimal catheter site selection and daily review of line necessity with prompt removal of unnecessary lines.

Doing my part for safety—

Lori Deschene

*If you’ve recently had a procedure and are looking for short or long-term rehabilitation, be sure to check Gilbert Guide for listings of local nursing home facilities.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Fran Griffin and Jessie DuPont of The Institute for Healthcare, who kindly informed us of errors in our initial posting.