According to the CDC, on any given day, about 1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Over the past few years there has been improvement in the incidence of these infections but more work needs to be done.
Most of us cannot avoid being hospitalized at some point in our lives. However, if we aware of certain risk factors for acquiring an infection in hospital, we can do our part (along with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers) to decrease the chance of acquiring such an infection.
Following are some tips for preventing infections while hospitalized.
1 – Wash your hands As I have said before elsewhere on this blog, hand washing is the cornerstone of infection prevention. Too often, I see patients with visibly soiled hands. These soiled hands touch the sites where their IVs go into their skin, they touch wounds, or dressings, they even go into their mouths. As a result, bacterial infection can arise at IV sites and spread into the blood stream. Wounds can get contaminated and then infected. The patient can ingest bacteria and come down with infections such as Clostridium difficile. Sometimes patients are no very mobile but hand sanitizer/wipes can also help.
2 – Ask your doctor/nurse to sanitize their hands before they care for you Unfortunately some health care providers are not 100% diligent in hand washing. You should not be afraid to ask your doctor of nurse if they sanitized their hands. It does not have to be in an antagonistic way. You can say something like “doc/nurse…I hope you left all the bad bugs outside; I didn’t notice you rubbing your hands with sanitizer, that’s why I asked. I am concerned about getting an infection from the hospital.” I doubt most persons would take offense to that. If they do, too bad. You are the one who would have to deal with any infection that occurs.
3 – Avoid PPI ant-acid medication if possible These are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole, Nexium, etc. These medicines decrease the acid in the stomach. This acid actually helps kill bacteria that may be ingested. If there is less stomach acid, bacteria in the stomach overgrows. When in the lying position, this bacteria can move up from the stomach (called reflux) and reach the throat, where it can then be breathed into the lungs causing pneumonia.
Another infection more likely to happen on these PPI medications is Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea. Many patients need these PPI medications. However, often time, a patient may get put on a PPI ‘just because.’ You should ask your doctor if you are on a PPI, and if there is a possibility that it can be stopped.
4 – Minimize narcotics if possible Narcotics (opioid pain medications) in large doses make you more drowsy. When asleep it may be harder to be aroused. The chance of aspirating (breathing down) contents from the throat into the lungs is higher when someone is in a deeper more prolonged sleep from narcotics. This can cause pneumonia. If more patients were aware of this, they may be reluctant to request repeated, heavy doses of narcotics.
5 – Avoid a Foley catheter if possible This catheter is a tube to drain urine from the bladder into a bag. They are very convenient as they prevent you from having to get up to use the bathroom. However, as with any foreign device, these catheters serve as a portal of entry of infection into the body. Specifically, they increase the chance of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Worst case scenario, is a UTI so severe that the infection spreads into the blood stream. If you had a Foley catheter, but are starting to feel stronger and move around, do not hesitate to ask if it can be removed.
6 – Ensure IV/drip sites are properly covered These sites should be covered with clean, dry dressings. If the dressing appears to be coming off, or gets wet, notify your nurse as soon as possible. IV sites should also be changed every 3-4 days. Contaminated IV sites can cause infection of the surrounding skin (cellulitis), and even more serious bacterial infections in the blood stream. Such infections require intense treatment with strong antibiotics via a drip.
7. – Minimize visitors You would be surprised how many times patients acquire viral infections from visitors. Influenza and other respiratory viruses are big culprits. Visitors may also touch many surfaces in the hospital before getting to your room. If they do not sanitize their hands, they can spread infection from other patients elsewhere in the hospital, to you. For the few visitors you have, ask them to wash or sanitize their hands on entering your room.
When it comes to your health, and quite frankly, your life, you should not be bashful about doing whatever it takes to prevent an infection, or any other problem for that matter. No one cares more about your health and wellbeing than you.