5 Infectious Diseases You Might Get in the ER

Respiratory Infections

Pneumonia is one of the most common infections picked up in hospitals. However, a lot of these cases crop up as a result of ventilator use. Along with ushering oxygen into a person's body, these machines can allow germs to creep in as well. To help reduce the odds of ventilator-associated pneumonia, health care providers should keep a patient's bed at a 30- to 45-degree angle, take patients off ventilators as soon as they're able to breathe on their own, clean the inside of a patient's mouth regularly, and wash and sanitize their hands before and after handling a patient's ventilator.

Fortunately, most ER patients don't require oxygen assistance. However, they're still at risk for respiratory infections -- particularly in winter months. Pneumonia is the No. 1 reason people are admitted to the hospital from the ER [source: Elixhauser, et al]. And viruses like the flu and common cold, which are also extremely contagious, are hanging around emergency rooms as well. These infections are easy to pick up just by sitting in a crowded waiting room. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are also at risk for catching these illnesses because they come into contact with so many infected patients.

To protect yourself from contagious viruses, take advantage of the precautionary supplies hospitals have available. Ask for a facemask to wear while you're there. You should also make use of handwashing stations -- particularly after you've touched surfaces like door handles.

On the next page, we have lots more information about emergency rooms.

Related Articles


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Central Line-associated Bloodstream Infections: Resources for Patients and Healthcare Providers." March 22, 2011 (July 1, 2011). http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/bsi/CLABSI-resources.html
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Frequently Asked Questions about Surgical Site Infections." Nov. 24, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/ssi/faq_ssi.html
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "HAIs, The Burden." Nov. 25, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/burden.html
  • CNN. "Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Alarm about Hospital Germs." July 22, 2002 (July 1, 2011). http://archives.cnn.com/2002/HEALTH/07/22/gupta.germs.hiv.otsc/index.html
  • DeNoon, Daniel J. "99,000 Die Yearly from Preventable Hospital Infections." WebMD. May 27, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/news/20100527/99-thousand-die-yearly-from-preventable-hospital-infections
  • DeNoon, Daniel J. "Hospital Infections Kill 48,000 Each Year." MedicineNet. Feb. 22, 2020 (July 1, 2011). http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=113578
  • Elixhauser, Anne and Owens, Pamela. "Reasons for Being Admitted to the Hospital through the Emergency Department, 2003." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. February 2006 (July 1, 2011). http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb2.pdf
  • Gokula, RM; MA Smith and J Hickner. "Emergency Room Staff Education and Use of a Urinary Catheter Indication Sheet Improves Appropriate use of Foley Catheters." American Journal of Infection Control. November 2007 (July 1, 2011). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17980237
  • Hendrick, Bill. "Infection Risk Lurks in Hospital ICUs." WebMD. June 7, 2011 (July 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/news/20110607/infection-risk-lurks-in-hospital-icus
  • Kroh, Eric. "The 'return of our old enemies in an untreatable form.'" Remapping Debate. June 13, 2011 (July 1, 2011). http://www.remappingdebate.org/article/return-our-old-enemies-untreatable-form
  • Mayo Clinic. "Deadly Stomach Infection Rising in Community Settings, Mayo Clinic Study Finds." Oct. 26, 2009 (July 1, 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2009-rst/5469.html
  • Warner, Jennifer. "C. diff Infection Rate May Overtake MRSA." WebMD. March 22, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/news/20100322/c-diff-infection-rate-may-overtake-mrsa
  • WebMD. "MRSA Slideshow: A Closer Look at MRSA." Feb. 25, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/slideshow-closer-look-at-mrsa
  • WebMD. "Pneumococcal Vaccines." Nov. 12, 2010 (July 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/pneumococcal-vaccine


How Ambulances Work

How Ambulances Work

How are ambulances dispatched and why do they cost so much? HowStuffWorks takes a close look at the world of ambulances.

More to Explore