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.