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How to Prevent Hospital Acquired Infections

Patients in hospitals should be able to trust that their illnesses and injuries are being treated in a safe, sterile environment. People go to hospitals to get healthier, not to get sicker. However, an estimated 1 in 20 patients will contract an additional infection during their hospital stay, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These hospital-acquired infections, also known as “nosocomial infections,” directly cause approximately 100,000 patient deaths every year.

Furthermore, the cost of treating these infections can run up to $45 billion per year. Many lives and much of the high cost of treatment may be saved if healthcare workers ensure that proper prevention measures are in place. Suggested prevention measures are relatively simple. However, in the fast-paced, stressful hospital atmosphere, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff often fail to follow them.

Prevention Techniques for Healthcare Workers

Hand Washing: 

One of the simplest measures healthcare workers can take to avoid nosocomial infections is to regularly and thoroughly wash and disinfect their hands. Person-to-person transmission spreads many infections between hospital patients. Therefore, doctors, nurses and any other hospital staff that have any contact with a patient should always wash their hands. When interacting with patients with minimal risk or signs of infection, the hands only need to be washed with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand disinfectant. However, for patients who have possible infections or greater risk of infection due to their illness, lowered immune system, or the use of breathing tubes, healthcare workers should ensure they use an antiseptic soap or disinfecting solution before and after every single contact.

Other Safety Precautions:

In addition to hand-washing, there are several other measures by hospital employees that can help prevent hospital-acquired infections.

These include:

  • Maintaining good personal hygiene;
  • Wearing appropriate, easy to clean clothing, including proper shoes and masks, if needed;
  • Properly sterilizing needles (or using disposables) and avoiding unnecessary injections;
  • Make sure all staff receives influenza vaccinations;
  • Wearing sterile gloves;
  • Routine, thorough cleaning of the hospital;
  • Sterilization of all patient equipment (or using disposables);
  • Use ventilators only when necessary and routinely clean the entry site; and
  • Regularly check surgical wounds for any signs of infection for early detection.

Prevention Techniques for Patients:

Because doctors and nurses see many patients a day and are often in a hurry, many of the simple infection prevention techniques are ignored or forgotten. Therefore, patients should be aware of simple measures reported by the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths that may be able to prevent hospital-acquired infections:

  • Request that all staff and visitors wash their hands before contact;
  • Ask surgeons for their rate of infection (all surgeons should know this statistic);
  • Stop smoking well before any surgical procedure;
  • If possible, avoid a urinary tract catheter;
  • Make sure your IV is changed every 3-4 days;
  • Ask that equipment, such as stethoscopes, be wiped down with alcohol;
  • Avoid hand-to-mouth contact, and do not use utensils or eat food that has touched furniture or bed clothes;
  • Ask your doctor to keep your body warm during surgery; and
  • If you require an antibiotic before surgery, ask that you receive your antibiotic one hour prior to surgery.

Patients should never be timid about inquiring about any of the above prevention techniques or requesting that staff take any of these actions. If you contract a hospital-acquired infection, it could lengthen your hospital stay, make your injury or illness worse, and even cause death. Therefore, when it comes to avoiding infection – patients or their family members should try to ensure that all safety precautions are enforced.

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