You go to the hospital when you are sick or injured and need care. The last thing you expect is that the hospital will make you sicker. But for up to 10 percent of hospital patients, that’s exactly what happens.
It turns out that hospitals are a breeding ground for infections — many of which are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year about 1.7 million patients get a hospital acquired infection (HAI). Some sources, including RID, a not-for-profit organization founded to foster awareness and prevention of hospital infections, think the number is much higher. It notes that the instance of one particularly nasty hospital infection, MRSA, a superbug that resists antibiotics, has grown from fewer than 2,000 reported cases in 1993 to 368,000 in 2005. But no matter what number you go by, it is clear that HAIs are a serious problem. Hospitals are beginning to devote more resources to fighting HAIs, but meanwhile there are things you can do to help protect yourself.
Sometimes it helps to be your own best advocate in health matters. But if you’re not feeling well enough to take charge, ask a trusted friend or relative to spend time in the hospital with you and be your advocate. Here are things you or your advocate should keep in mind:
Choose your hospital: Educate yourself about laws in your in your state designed to create safer, healthier hospitals, then find out what your hospital has done to control infections. You can find specific hospital statistics from State Health Department.
Hand Washing: Ask that your doctors, nurses, and visitors wash their hands before touching you or items in your room. Gloves offer a false sense of security and can be contaminated if put on by germ-infested hands.
Eat from clean plates: Consume food that has only touched the clean plate on which it is delivered. Don’t set food on a meal tray or any other surface.
Avoid contact with sick people: This includes not just other patients but also family and friends who may be ill.
Keep tubes to a minimum: Catheters, IVs, and other tubes offer a direct line into your body. If possible, skip them, but also ask to have all tubes removed as soon as possible after surgery.
Go Home: The longer you stay in the hospital after surgery, the more likely you are to develop an infection. Before being admitted, work with your doctor to create a recovery plan you can tackle right away in order to get out of the hospital as soon as possible.
Trying to take steps to stay as healthy as possible while you’re in the hospital may seem like a challenge when you’re not feeling your best. But remember that you are an important part of your medical team, and whatever you can do to speed the healing process — and prevent infections — is definitely worth the effort.
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