In the United States, an estimated 1.7 million infections are associated with health care and are a factor in over 99,000 deaths a year. The CDC’s discussion of its 2002 findings presents just how significant this problem is:
We estimate that 1.7 million HAIs [hospital acquired infections] occurred in U.S. hospitals in 2002 and were associated with approximately 99,000 deaths. The number of HAIs exceeded the number of cases of any currently notifiable disease, and deaths associated with HAIs in hospitals exceeded the number attributable to several of the top ten leading causes of death reported in U.S. vital statistics. (Klevens et al., 2002, pg. 164)
There are many things you can do during your hospital stay that will help prevent getting an infection. Don’t be afraid to ask. The hospital and its staff must, by law, do everything it can to prevent hospital-acquired infections.
- Make sure doctors, nurses and any other health professionals wash their hands before examining you. Wash your own hands carefully after using the bathroom or handling soiled materials. Scrub for at least 15 seconds with warm soapy water. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites hand washing as the single most effective way to control the spread of disease.
- If family or friends are ill, ask them not to visit you.
- If you are having surgery, STOP SMOKING, well in advance of your surgery. Patients who smoke are far more likely to develop a surgical site infection, have slower recoveries and longer hospital stays.
- Before a doctor uses a stethoscope ask that it be wiped with alcohol. The same precautions should be taken for other commonly used pieces of hospital equipment.
- ASK QUESTIONS. In Pennsylvania, there is a Patient Bill of Rights and you have the right to understand your medical condition and treatment. Informed and involved patients are far less likely to develop preventable and potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections.
- Finally, ask a hospital administrator or appropriate authority about any organized surveillance efforts that the hospital partakes in. The CDC’s 2002 study cited above suggests that new advancements in information technology could lead to significant improvements in identifying particular problem areas with respect to hospital-acquired infections at both the national and regional level.
The above list is just a few of the ways to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections. If you are going to the hospital or are in the hospital, paying attention to cleanliness and asking questions will help you have a healthier stay.
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