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How to Prevent Harmful Infections

Preventing Hospital Infections
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Healthcare workers must always be diligent about washing hands in order to avoid spreading infection.

It may seem ironic, but the place where you go to be healed can make you sick. Hospitals are havens for infection-causing bugs, but by following a few practical tips, you can have a healthier hospital stay.

Hospital Infection Information

Several different kinds of bacteria, and less often, viruses and fungi, are responsible for hospital infections, or nosocomial infections. The most common infectors are the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Escherichia coli.

When you go to the hospital, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers have a variety of tools at their disposal to save your life

or better your physical condition. Unfortunately, these same tools can harbor bacteria and other bugs that can cause infection. Catheters, surgical implements, breathing tubes, and even latex gloves can spread infection if not properly used.

The healthcare workers themselves can spread infection if they're not vigilant about washing their hands and changing gloves every time they move from one patient to another. Hospital infections can also be the result of contaminated ventilation or water systems. However, the development of a hospital infection does not necessarily mean something was done incorrectly.

Urinary tract infections, surgical wound site infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia are the most common illnesses transmitted in hospitals. Nosocomial infections are so virulent for a couple of reasons.

First, hospitals are full of sick people who bring with them a variety of infectious agents. Second, hospital patients do not have strong immune systems. Their bodies are hard at work trying to recover from an illness, injury, or surgery. And when the immune system is not in top condition, your body's defenses are down and it's easy for a new bug to invade.

Who's at Risk for Hospital Infections?

The CDC estimates that almost two million Americans get hospital infections each year, and 90,000 of those people die from them. Anyone who spends time in the hospital is at risk for infection, but the chances are greater for those who stay in an intensive care unit.

Defensive Measures Against Hospital Infections

You can take many precautions to steer clear of infections while in the hospital. In fact, the CDC estimates at least one-third of hospital-acquired illnesses can be avoided. Being aware of your rights as a patient and following a few practical tips will go a long way toward ensuring you don't leave the hospital sicker than when you got there:

  • Wash up. Do your duty by washing your hands or at least using a hand sanitizing gel that doesn't require water every time you use the restroom or handle anything that might be a germ carrier. Suspect items include soiled sheets, a bedpan, and used tissues.
  • Ask away. Don't be afraid to ask your physicians, nurses, and nurse's aides if they have washed their hands.
  • Watch that wound. Be sure to keep the dressing around a wound dry and clean. Let a nurse know immediately if it gets wet or begins to loosen.
  • Care for that catheter. Treat your catheter site as a wound dressing and keep it clean and dry. If the dressing comes loose or if the drainage tube becomes dislodged, tell your nurse.
  • Be part of the team. Be sure everyone involved in your care knows of any potential medical conditions, such as diabetes, that may affect your healing.
  • Know and follow the rules. Follow your physician's instructions and ask questions if you're unsure about anything he or she has instructed you to do or not do.
  • Be sure well-wishers are well. Tell family or friends who are sick to send you a get-well card instead of dropping by for a visit.

By following the preventative measures outlined in this article, you will decrease your chance of acquiring the many harmful infections in your midst. From simple hand washing to eating healthy, these tips are typically easy to do and often have multiple benefits.


Laurie L. Dove is an award-winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness, and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers magazine and Southern Living magazine. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, he has a passion for learning and writing about health issues,

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.