You go to the hospital to get better, right? Did you know that patients can get infections in the hospital while they are being treated for something else?
Every day, patients get infections in healthcare facilities while they are being treated for something else. The U.S. government estimates that one out of every 20 patients who enter a hospital develops a healthcare-associated infection (HAI). It all sounds pretty scary, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. The goal is to prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate HAIs.
What is an HAI? HAIs are infections that develops as a result of medical care. This may occur in a hospital, outpatient surgery center, nursing home, rehabilitation facility, or while receiving wound care services.
In order to develop an infection while receiving these services, bacteria must enter your body. This can happen in many ways: through a wound, a device such as a catheter, or even by way of the lungs.
The most common infections associated with healthcare can be divided into four categories: catheter-associated urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and pneumonia.
There are several things you can do as a patient and a visitor to try to prevent HAIs.
How to be a good patient:
1. Speak up. Talk to your doctor about all questions or worries you have. Ask them what they are doing to protect you. If you have a catheter, ask each day if it is necessary. Ask your doctor how he/she prevents surgical site infections. Also ask how you can prepare for surgery to reduce your infection risk.
2. Keep hands clean. Be sure everyone cleans their hands before touching you.
3. Get smart about antibiotics. Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed.
4. Know the signs and symptoms of infections. Some skin infections, such as MRSA, appear as redness, pain, or drainage at an IV catheter site or surgery site. Often these symptoms come with a fever. Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms.
5. Watch out for diarrhea. Tell your doctor if you have three or more diarrhea episodes in 24 hours, especially if you have been taking an antibiotic.
6. Protect yourself. Get vaccinated against flu and other infections to avoid complications.
How to be a good visitor:
1. Sanitize hands before and after visiting to avoid bringing in and carrying out germs. Insist that healthcare providers do the same before caring for your loved one. Clean your hands after sneezing, coughing, touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, after using the restroom, and before and after eating or drinking. Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve, and do not sit on patient beds or handle their equipment.
2. Stay home if you are sick. Do not visit the hospital if you are sick or have had any ill symptoms within the last three days.
3. Check first before you bring food, send flowers, or bring the kids. While flowers, young visitors, and home-baked goodies spread cheer, they may not be allowed.
4. Follow special precautions, if necessary. Talk to the nurse before entering the room to find out what steps you will have to take, such as wearing a mask or other protective clothing.
5. Don’t contribute to the clutter. Limit the patient’s personal items. Less clutter eases the critical job of cleaning hospital rooms. Keep patient items off the floor and away from waste containers.
Research suggests that many of these infections are preventable. The establishment of the HAI objectives for Healthy People 2020 reflects the commitment of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to preventing and reducing HAIs. Efforts are under way to expand surveillance and to identify and implement effective prevention programs.
It is important to be informed, be empowered, and be prepared to do all you can to prevent HAIs.
For more information:
http://consumers.site.apic.org/ or http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.