Things You Can Do To Prevent Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital acquired infections are dangerous and costly to consumers. You go to the hospital, you pay your money and you get sicker than before you went in. That’s just not cool.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from hospital acquired infections. Most of them require having the confidence to speak up.

From the Globe:

“Patients and their families have a role, too,” said former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, chairwoman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. “But too often, patients and families are reluctant to speak up. If you’re worried about being too aggressive, just remember: Your life is at stake.”

So how can you be an effective advocate for yourself or your relative?

It can mean paying attention to everything from when to get antibiotics before surgery (no sooner than an hour before), to the angle of the bed for a ventilator patient (30 degrees), to asking whether all those tubes are really needed (they may not be).

But doing that can require courage — and persistence. Dr. Denise M. Cardo, the top specialist on hospital-acquired infections at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared it with her own experience with car mechanics.

“I decided, because they messed up so many times, that I’m questioning everything,” Cardo said. “What we want is a healthcare environment where people feel fine doing that, where they feel empowered to say, ‘OK, why do I need that?’ “

It may seem rude, but hospital acquired infections do happen and you have the right to speak up. For 15 things you can do to help avoid getting an infection, click here.

Patient, protect thyself [Boston Globe via WSJ Health Blog]



Edit Your Comment

  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    “What we want is a healthcare environment where people feel fine doing that, where they feel empowered to say, ‘OK, why do I need that?'”

    Um, no. What we want is a healthcare environment where we don’t have to question the care we’re being given because we can be sure it’s being administered by qualified and competent personnel. We want doctors and nurses who don’t require being questioned and second guessed in order not to die under their care. We want to not have to feel like we’re responsible for knowing as much about their jobs as they do but not being the one who drives the porsche home.

  2. freshwater says:

    It scares me that I have to ask my health care provider if they’re watching out for my health and safety.

    I can remember once getting blood drawn, and I was nervous because the
    phlebotomist didn’t use gloves. But she was the professional, so I
    didn’t say anything. A habit I need to get out of.

  3. Snakeophelia says:

    Freshwater, yes, that is a habit you need to get out of. I was a phlebotomist 19 years ago, in a state where neither formal training nor certification was required to be a working phlebotomist, and we knew to wear gloves. There is no way you should allow your blood to be drawn without them now – and it’s for the phlebotomist’s protection as well as yours.

  4. Chongo says:

    I’ve got a story about my experience with Hospital Acquired infections.

    I was recently diagnosed with GBS (Guillene beret syndrome) and was sent to the hospital. During my 6 day visit I had about 4 seperate roommates. The very last of my roomates came in coughing so hard and long that I could actually smell the phlem in the air. It was terrible but I was so doped up that I couldn’t really complain.

    I got out after the 6 days and went home to recoup. About 4 days later I started to get very high fevers of 104. My head hurt beyond any pain that I’ve ever had. I was rushed back to the hospital and given 2 CAT scans and an MRI. They thought maybe I had a problem related to the spinal taps they gave me. After every test you could think of, FINALLY they do the normal FLU test. Low-and-behold it was flu. They told me that when a patient comes in they do tests for the worst case scenario first and then wittle down the choices to the obivous (Flu, etc.). So it turns out my roommate from the first visit had Flu and Pnumonia and I got it while my immune system was totally out of wack. Worst time of my life ever (and I owe tons of money)

    Make sure you ask your nurses for masks and just flat out say your not going to stay in a room until you know whats wrong with your room mate.

  5. darkclawsofchaos says:

    MSRA can be a real killer, especially its drug resistant too. But don’t question doctors, they know what they are doing and are not really responsible for the care, they hate being questioned. Its the nurse who you question as the care provided may be placed under scrutiny.

  6. Wormfather says:

    Ha haaaa Mrs. Wormfather, I present you with Reason No. 8 as to why I’m not going to the hospital!

  7. @DeeJayQueue: Yes!

    Also, medical staff that tells what’s happening and why (OK, I’m giving you X for pain) without having to be asked would be nice.

    But for crying out loud, should we really have to ask medical staff to wash their hands?

  8. aishel says:

    I work in a hospital, and ALWAYS wear gloves when working with patients. Additionally, it is important for healthcare workers to wash their hands both BEFORE and AFTER meeting with patients. Before because who knows what kind of gunk is in the patient’s chart that they just flipped through, plus its very possible that they played with their hair or picked their nose (kidding). But seriously, in an effort to increase handwashing amongst the healthcare workers, many therapists and staff have begun wearing pins that say, “Ask me if I’ve washed my hands.”

  9. KernelPanic says:

    It’s called “Lysol Everything!!!” If it’s a hard surface you might touch, spray the crap out of it (Maybe, quite literally…) and let the Lysol sit and do its job and then wipe it up.


  10. MercuryPDX says:

    I contracted Scarlet Fever a day or so after visiting my doctors office for a routine physical. From that point on I never touch ANYTHING (like magazines) in the waiting room, and even stand while I wait. I always insist that doctor wash his hands and swab any instrument with alcohol before it touches me. He looks at me like a paranoid, but who cares. It was a disgusting and painful week long lesson.

  11. bluesunburn says:

    My PCP and the nurses that work in his office wash their hands in front of each patient as soon as they enter the exam room. It’s a nice touch, and lets you know they’re attentive.

  12. spinachdip says:

    “But too often, patients and families are reluctant to speak up. If you’re worried about being too aggressive, just remember: Your life is at stake.”

    I can’t stress this enough.

    Our experience doesn’t have to do with infections per se, the birth of my daughter earlier this summer taught me that you can’t put a price on the value of educating yourself and working with the hospital staff rather than simply trusting them to know what’s best for us.

    Long story short, the nurses kept insisting that my girlfriend to take the epidural, but we stood our ground, and using a technique we learned in our birthing class but not hospital-sanctioned, our baby came out healthier and at least 6 hours earlier than if we simply followed their orders.

    This isn’t to say to treat the hospital as your enemy (and don’t forget, they are the ones with the medical degrees) but it never hurts to speak up and ask questions.

  13. facted says:

    @Chongo: Was that recently? The flu season actually only lasts generally for 6 weeks from sometime in November until Feburary (depends on the area of the country). It’s actually quite difficult to get the flu in the summer (there are some other parts of the world where the flu season is different that ours).

    While it is very disheartening sometimes to be stuck next to a patient that looks or sounds very sick, most things aren’t actually communicable via the air unless it’s TB (or the flu), for instance. If your caretakers washed their hands correctly and observed other simple procedures like wearing gowns for people who are infected with worse-than-usual bacteria (like MRSA), you are no more likely to get infected from your friend in the next bed over than you are from anyone else on your hospital wing.

  14. facted says:

    @spinachdip: I’m very happy that the baby came out healthy and everything went well. However, the nurses may have been suggesting that your girlfriend have the epidural because there is scientific evidence that epidurals have many benefits. Contrary to popular belief, epidurals have not been shown to slow labor and have never been shown to harm babies. You are clearly entitled to choose to give birth without epidurals, but I think it’s also important to allow physicans to educate patients once in a while too. After all, if I call a plumber to my house to fix something, I don’t sit there giving him advice on what I think he needs to do. I may have read something and may ask a question or two, but I don’t insist that I know everything. Dealing with patients at hospitals sometimes, though, you’d feel that everyone has gone to medical school and completed a residency in just about every specialty out there.

  15. spinachdip says:

    @facted: I appreciate your response, but I didn’t go into a detail about what went on in the delivery room for the sake of brevity and clarity.

    But the +6 hours was the doctor’s own estimate and the same nurse who yelled at us congratulated us on our stand on the epidural. While we were aware that epidurals aren’t harmful, we just didn’t want medical intervention unless absolutely necessary for the health of the mother and the baby. We knew she could manage the pain with a non-medical method.

    We were careful to respect that we were working with medical professionals, but educating ourselves of our choices was something we took very seriously. It wasn’t like we just picked up What to Expect When You’re Expecting and went to a weekend Lamaze class, nor did we go to a hippie birthing class that took a “doctors are evil!” attitude.

    Again, my point is to work with, not against, the medical staff.

  16. spinachdip says:

    @facted: And just to clarify, you’re right, epidurals don’t slow the delivery or harm the baby necessarily, but taking the epidural meant that she had to lie on her back the whole time, which definitely would have slowed the delivery, and we wanted the baby to feed and interact with the mother as soon as possible.

    But enough about childbirth, sorry.

  17. tchrgrl says:

    @facted: Umm, where did you dig up your research? Because research has proven that not only do epidurals affect babies, but they can result in paralysis and death for the mother. In even seemingly minor cases of side effects, epidurals can cause long-term discomfort. Every medical procedure carries a risk, and some risks are not necessary. If a person opts for no epidural, that’s the best way to do.

    The following is from WebMD, the most pro-med site I know of:
    Epidural anesthesia using standard medication doses increases your risk of:

    * Having a prolonged labor. The average epidural labor takes an extra hour to deliver the baby.2 (Some studies suggest that epidural labors are no longer than average labors when medication is not given until the cervix is at least 4 cmdilated.3)
    * Having a drop in blood pressure (hypotension), which can lower your baby’s heart rate. This is why you receive fluids through an intravenous (IV) line beforehand and why you’re encouraged to lie on your side, which improves blood flow.
    * Being unable to feel your contractions and to push. This increases your risk of needing an assisted (forceps or vacuum) delivery and possibly your chance of needing a cesarean section you wouldn’t otherwise have needed.2
    * Having your baby move into the wrong position (malposition) because of slack pelvic muscles and a slack uterus. This increases your risk of needing an assisted (forceps or vacuum) delivery. Some experts question whether malposition may happen first, causing pain that leads a woman to ask for an epidural.2 Talk to your health professional about his or her experience with this problem.
    * Having a seizure related to the medication. This is very rare.

    After childbirth with an epidural, you may have:

    * Back soreness at the catheter site during recovery. This is uncommon. Some women fear that an epidural causes chronic back pain-studies have not shown a connection between new back pain and epidural use.2
    * Severe, prolonged headache after delivery, when the spinal cord sheath has accidentally been punctured during the procedure. A puncture occurs in about 3% of women receiving an epidural. About 70% of these women develop the headache after childbirth. The puncture is repaired by an anesthesiologist, using another injection in the puncture area. This usually relieves the headache.

    Spinal-epidural anesthesia carries the same types of risks as an epidural alone.3

    For more information, see the topic Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum Period.

  18. chickymama says:

    Actually for clarification (not to get off topic) but in the book What to Expect When You Are Expecting states that while pregnant sleeping on the left side is beneficial as the left ventricle of the heart pumps blood out and into the aorta. It helps maximize blood flow. This is regardless if an epidural will happen or not. Also, many women who come are in labor are hooked up to an IV (if there is time) this is to keep a mother hydrated and just in case a c-section is needed and they can get proper agents into the system immediatley.

    I am very happy that Medicare is not going to pay for care related to hospital mistakes. It is about time. I work in claims at our hospital and because of a mistake on our part, a pt had incurred over $100k in charges to fix our mistake, made me disgusted knowing that.

  19. facted says:

    @tchrgrl: I do agree that all those things CAN happen, but the risk is actually exceedingly low for just about everything you mentioned. There are also risks for NOT getting an epidural (including needing an emergency C-section to save a babies life). In that case, since there is no time to put in an epidural, general anesthesia is needed which is a very risky proposition in the late-term pregnant women.

    There are certainly risks and benefits to every procedure, but sometimes, I feel that the exceedingly low risks of some procedures are blown way out of proportion.

  20. htrout13 says:

    A very good friend was finishing up chemo when he came down with a very high fever. He ends up in the ICU, as he was dealing with chemo he didn’t have any white blood cells left. Other than the fever, they found nothing else… Within 2 days he found himself slammed with pneumonia, a staff infection and an odd blood infection. He was being pumped full of antibiotics just to keep him from getting worse – which only lasted for a short while…

    After his 2nd trip to the ICU in 2 weeks, having never left the hospital, the doctors started wondering if maybe the port they had installed 2 months prior (for chemo) was causing the problem.

    Jump forward another week, the port gets removed, white blood cells jump up, fever disappears and he’s 100% better! He got out of the hospital as soon as humanly possible. Doing much better!!!

  21. facted says:

    @tchrgrl: To add a little evidence to my comments (medicine these days likes to stress evidenced-based practices after all), here’s a link to an article form the the main OBGYN journal from 2006:


  22. facted says:

    @htrout13: Unfortunately, that’s a very common side effect from chemotherapy. It’s not really a medical error, and even the port insertion isn’t a medical error either. Ports are very common sites of infection and people with very poor immune systems (such as chemo patients, or AIDS patients to name a few) often have their ports get infected. It is not uncommon for ports to get pulled and replaced a few times in these patients. Getting out of the hospital is certainly a good idea for a patient with a compromised immune system, though there is certainly a need to be cautious as well. These patients can get easily infected at home as well as in the hospital (and hence they are given drugs to boost their immune system and covered with antibiotics even if they don’t have a current infection).

  23. facted says:

    Here is another paper, albeit a little bit older.

  24. AuntNi says:

    I believe the new stats are: upon entering the hospital, you have a .5% chance of dying of a hospital-acquired infection. I swear I’d never have surgery again if it weren’t life-saving.

    My dad got a hospital infection last year that almost killed him. And my neighbor suffered a heart attack, and got MRSA from the hospital. It spread to his brain and almost killed him, and he racked up over $1 million in hospital bills from a bug he got at the hospital. He’s now permanently disabled and will never be the same. As if it’s not bad enough to be sick and hospitalized. Now you have to guard yourself against the medical personnel who are supposed to be healing you?

    And Medicare is talking a big talk about refusing to pay bills resulting from hospital mistakes. Who do you think the hospitals are going after for that money?

  25. Joafu says:

    Don’t pack for an ‘overnight evaluation’, pack for a week; chances are you’ll pick up a unexpected souvenir, especially around flu season and in the highs of summer. Just don’t give the nurses, lab techs, etc a hard time about it- they get the cruddy stuff like everyone else, only more constantly. If anything, ask the doctor if certain tests/overnights are REALLY needed; the longer you stay in and the more tests performed means more potential exposure to illness.

  26. mconfoy says:

    St. Joseph’s hospital in Tampa killed both my grandfather and uncle with bacterial infections caught while in the hospital.

  27. Charles Duffy says:

    @AuntNi: Medicare is also talking big talk about not letting the hospital go after anyone (other than dipping into their own coffers) for money stemming from their own mistakes.

  28. ltlbbynthn says:

    My grandma caught some sick drug-resistant infection after being given antibiotics for every little thing by her nursing home. She was in the hospital twice, and the second time the nurse told us it was better to “let her go”. We kept trying to get the nurse to come in and fix her machine, it was beeping an alarm, and she just came in and turned the alarm off. Then they gave her some medication to slow down her heart and she died.

  29. Me. says:

    I’m 25, have cancer, and am going through chemo right now. I know some people may really disagree with this, but I’ve assembled a team of all female doctors because I noticed, after dealing with NUMEROUS medical professionals, the females dealt with questions/ requests much better than the males. I don’t know if it has to do with ego or a sense of nurturing and I don’t really care about the /why/ … all I know is that my health is my #1 concern right now and I have to get complete strangers to somehow make my health their #1 concern too.

    Sidenote: I’m also completely comfortable offending mothers when I move away from their snotty, germy, infectious little children. One cough could kill me, so there really comes a point where my health is sooooo much more important than social etiquette.

  30. Chongo says:

    @facted: Just to follow up – I was actually told by the head nurse on my second visit that the guy did indeed have the flu. And seeing as how I could actually smell his phlem in the air, the doctors and I both agree’d that I got it from him. PLUS my immune system was so wacked out.

  31. facted says:

    @Chongo: It is theoretically possible if the person next to you had traveled from a foreign country recently (in the southern hemisphere), that he could have had the flu, and subsequently given it to you. Otherwise, the chance of you getting the flu from him (and for him to actually have it) approximate zero. In addition, people with smelly phlegm don’t necessarily have the flu (they could have a simple pneumonia, which is usually bacterial). It’s also unlikely to get a pneumonia from another patient via an airborne route.

    Aside from the flu, you could have gotten a simple cold from the patient which could explain a lot of the same symptoms, just with decreased severity.

    All the same, I’m glad you’re feeling better and that’s all that really matters :)

  32. JamesMills says:

    In April of this year my wife went for a simple outpatient surgery to have a dialysis graft placed in her thigh. I requested a hospital stay for a couple of days for safety insurances.
    After surgery she became febrile and by nights ends her vital signs showed a temp of 104.5 and BP of 80/40. The following morning blood cultures and a smear testing of the new surgical site was performed and days later showed an Escherichia Coli (E-Coli) infection. While awaiting results of the pending culture tests she went into Sepsis shock with complete lost of her mental state. She was placed in ICU for a week and during this time the surgical site developed necrotizing cellulites, a Soft Tissue Infection. This resulted in vast lost of thigh,groin tissue and nerves leaving her in need of a wheel chair daily while of normal goings. While in the hospital recovering from this, she had a massive GI bleed leaving her with a hemoglobin of less than 3, needing 8 units of blood at one time. After this she contracted MRSA, the super bug as they call it. What was to be a simple outpatient surgery turns out to be a hellish 41-day nightmare of hospital inquired infections and two near death episodes. My wife is only 42, what if this was an elderly person? From the legal point of view, infections are common in hospitals as well as accepting them, therefore, nothing can be done. Anyone entering into the hospital is now asked to care for themselves to lower their risk of infections while paying the hospital to care for them. Needless to say the bill for this 41 day hospital stay is out of this world. To think she was left deformed and in a wheel chair and to top it off, she was released from the hospital without the graft she went in for. Now tell me if this country is not providing third world care….