How to Reduce the Risk of Hospital Spread Infections
The Centers for Disease Control report that over 2,000,000 people will be affected by painful hospital-spread infections in the U.S. every year. Over 90,000 patients will die from infections acquired while in the hospital.Whether you're a patient or a healthcare provider, you can do your part to reduce the risk of hospital-spread infection.
Planning Ahead Before Entering the Hospital
Get vaccinated.Some infections and diseases can be prevented with proper vaccinations. If you get the vaccinations you need each year, you can avoid catching certain infections, such as the flu. The flu can lead to serious complications, especially if you are trying to recover from a surgery or other serious health condition.
- Many adults do not have the vaccinations against hepatitis B and pneumococcal disease (which can cause pneumonia). If you have not had these vaccines, speak with your doctor
Talk to your doctor.Doctors are aware that patients have concerns about contracting infections in the hospital, and they should be willing to talk to you about it. For instance, if you're going to have surgery, ask about how the hospital lowers the risk that you'll get an infection.
- Tell your doctor if you've been sick recently, as that can increase your chance of infection. If your doctor knows of your illness, the hospital can take extra steps to help prevent infection.In some cases, the surgery will need to be delayed until the infection is treated and brought under control, or else it can spread to the surgical site.
- Also, ask if you can be tested for methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus(MRSA). Many people carry this bacteria, but it can be introduced into your system when you have a surgery or are in the hospital, which can lead to a dangerous infection. If you test positive, your doctor and staff can work harder to prevent infection. You should have the test done at least a week before you enter the hospital.
Be as healthy as possible before entering the hospital.If you have a scheduled surgery or hospital stay, getting as healthy as possible before going in can help you fight off infection. One big step you can take is to stop smoking, as that can increase your chance of infection.
- Also, try exercising and eating healthily to boost your immune system and be at a healthy weight.
- Monitor your blood sugar if you're a diabetic. If you keep your sugars in range, it can help you fight off infection.
Shower with chlorhexidine soap.For at least three days before your hospital stay, shower once or twice a day with chlorhexidine soap. This soap is an antibacterial soap that can help remove bacteria from your skin before you enter the hospital. Often, infections are introduced to your body by bacteria on your own skin, so removing some of it can help prevent infection.
- You can usually find this soap over-the-counter at most pharmacies or from online stores. If you can't find it, ask your doctor about it.
Taking Safety Precautions While in the Hospital
Wash your hands.One of the primary steps you can take as a patient is to wash your hands thoroughly as often as you can. Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom. It's also important to wash your hands after touching railings or other public surfaces in the hospital,as well as both before and after you eat.
- Get your hands wet, and add an antibacterial soap. Most hospitals have antibacterial soaps available. Be sure to get the soap all over your hands, including between your fingers.
- Rub the soap in for about 20 seconds. You can mark this time by singing the Happy Birthday song twice.
- Run your hands under water to wash the soap off, and then dry them with a clean paper towel.
- If you can't wash your hands in the sink, ask the nurse for antibacterial hand wipes.
Ask visitors to wash their hands.It's equally important that anyone who visits you also washes their hands. Ask them to wash their hands when they enter your room and also before they touch you if they've been in your room a while and touched other surfaces.
- Hand sanitizer is also effective, but not against certain microbes. Ask people to wash their hands whenever possible.
- Visitors should also wash their hands upon leaving, so they don't spread anything from you to anyone else.
- If one of your friends or family members is sick, ask them to skip visiting until they feel better.
Encourage your providers to wash their hands.When your nurses and doctors enter the room, ask them if they'll wash their hands if you notice they haven't. If your doctor or nurse is worth their salt, they won't hesitate to do it. In fact, they know they should be doing it anyway, but some may forget.
- You could say, "I notice you didn't wash your hands. I understand you're busy, and you probably just forget. I'm really worried about catching an infection, so would you mind washing your hands before examining me?"
Keep bacteria away from your mouth.The most efficient way to keep it away is to try not to touch your mouth. When you're in a hospital, you are, of course, going to touch surfaces. Those surfaces can harbor bacteria, and bringing your hands to your mouth can allow them to enter your body. In addition, don't place anything you're eating with on the bed or other surface in your room.
Ask if all equipment has been sterilized or cleaned.When a nurse or doctor brings equipment into your room, ask about cleaning procedures. Equipment like heart monitors should be cleaned between every patient, and some other equipment, such as needles, should be one-time use.
Ask about the necessity of your catheter.Catheters can lead to urinary tract infections. Of course, they are necessary at times, but you should ask each day if it's still necessary for the catheter to be in. You want to get it out as soon as you possibly can.
Look for signs of infection.Of course, your doctors and nurses should be looking for signs of infection, but you should also keep an eye out, too. Look for swelling and redness near surgical sites, as well as near catheter insertions. You may also notice pain or warmth.
- If you notice these symptoms, talk to your nurse or doctor. They will take the appropriate steps to help you deal with the infection, such as removing the catheter or prescribing antibiotics.
Keep an eye on your IV.If you have an IV while in the hospital to receive fluids or medication, the site where the needle enters your skin should stay dry. If it looks dirty or wet, tell a nurse, who can come and change it, or at the very least, clean it up.
Pay attention to how often you go to the bathroom.If you have diarrhea in the hospital, that can be a sign of infection. If you're on an antibiotic and you have diarrhea at least three times in 24 hours, you should talk to your doctor about it.
Taking Steps to Protect Patients
Evaluate the patient's need for isolation.Patients may need to be isolated for two reasons. Some patients may need to be isolated to protect them from infections from other patients. Other patients may need to be isolated because they have an infection that could be passed easily.
- Patients who may need to be isolated because they are a risk to other patients include those with epidemic strains of bacterium, those with skin rashes, those who have communicable diseases, and those who have diarrhea.
- Patients who need to be isolated for their own good include those with compromised immune systems.
- Isolate patients in rooms with tightly sealing doors. Patients who are a danger to others should have negative-pressure ventilation, while those who are more in danger of infection should have positive-pressure ventilation.
Determine other at-risk patients.Certain patients may have a weakened immune system or other condition that makes them more susceptible to infection. For example, people who are in shock or who have had major trauma are at a higher risk for catching an infection. You will need to be more vigilant with at-risk patients.
- Older patients and very young patients are also more at risk, particularly those over 70 years of age or young children (who are sick) and infants.
- Other conditions that put patients at risk include those in comas, those who've taken antibiotics in the past, those on drugs that compromise the immune system (such as chemotherapy), and those with acute renal failure. Diabetes can also contribute to a compromised immune system.
Practice good hand-washing procedures.Studies have shown that most professionals think they wash their hands more often than they do. They also think they wash their hands for longer than they do. In other words, you probably think you are washing your hands enough for a long enough period, when in reality, you're not doing it as much as you should.
- Make sure to wash any rings and then remove them to scrub away as much bacteria as possible. Scrub your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, and rinse them under the water.
- Wash your hands after every time you touch or deal with a patient, as well as after removing gloves after patient care. If you are doing an activity that may contaminate the hands, such as touching contaminated equipment or working on a person's bedding, then gloves should be worn, and hands washed immediately after removal.
- When entering a patient room, you should immediately wash your hands. When leaving a patient’s room, hands should be cleaned again.
- While hand washing is better than hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer does reduce the spread of germs and can be done more quickly than thorough hand washing.
Wear gloves.When examining a patient, it's important to wear gloves in addition to washing your hands when dealing with any wounds or moist surfacesWhen you wear gloves, remember to wash your hands immediately upon their removal.
- Wear clean, sterile gloves for surgery and for sterile procedures. Wear non-sterile gloves when touching blood, other body fluids and contaminated items and any other potentially infectious materials.
- Change gloves when changing procedures on the same patient to avoid spreading infection from a contaminated area to a clean area.
- Remove your gloves after caring for the patient and change gloves between patients. Wash your hands after removing the gloves, and before donning new gloves for the next patient. Never wear the same pair of gloves to examine multiple people.
Clean insertion sites.When inserting anything into a patient, from IVs to catheter, it's important to clean the site first. Chlorhexidine is a good choice, though some hospitals also employ alcohol swabs to clean the skin before insertion.
Clean stethoscopes.Stethoscopes can pass infections between patients if they aren't cleaned properly. Best practices suggest you should clean stethoscopes at least once a day with a cleaning agent such as a non-ionic detergent or isopropyl alcohol, focusing particularly on the diaphragm.
Keep the room clean.Rooms should be cleaned thoroughly after each patient, including the floor and bathroom. While the patient is there, the room should be kept as dry as possible to lower the ability of bacteria to spread. Equipment should also be cleaned between patients.
- Patients' rooms need to be cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectants.
- Particular attention should be paid to all the surfaces the patient comes in contact with, including the television remote, the bed rails, the telephone, the doorknobs, and the faucet handles.
Keep patients on the same ward.As often as possible, patients should not be transferred. Of course, patients should be transferred if it's absolutely necessary, but every time a patient is moved, it increases the chances of infection spreading across the hospital.
Skip the white coat.When examining wounds, skipping the white coat can be beneficial. These coats often harbor bacteria, particularly in the cuffs and pockets. A plastic apron is a better choice, so you should take off the coat and put on an apron when preparing to examine a wound.
- Though it looks nice, male doctors should also skip wearing neckties for the same reason.
Video: Patient Safety Tips: Medication Safety during your Hospital Stay
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