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Hospital Infections - Take Charge

Armen Hareyan's picture
Handwashing To Reduce Hospital Infections

Hospital acquired infections are a serious problem that the quality improvement movement is shining a light on. Each year 2 million Americans acquire an infection while hospitalized. We used to accept these rates as just unfortunate events.

From methacillin resistant staph (MRSA) to Clostridium difficile (C. diff), we now know that these infections can be prevented through rigorous precautions and awareness. Here are 12 steps you can take to reduce your risk of hospital infections.

1. Ask hospital staff and visitors (very important!) to wash their hands before treating you.
Alcohol based hand cleaners should be at every bedside. Make sure it is used.

2. Make sure the Doctor or nurse wipes the stethoscope with alcohol before examining you.

3. Ask your surgeon about his/her infection rate. He should know the answer for the
procedure being performed.

4. Beginning 3-5 days before surgery, shower or bathe daily with chlorhexidine soap. You can
buy it over the counter.

5. Ask your surgeon to have you tested for MRSA one week before your surgery. It is a
simple test with a nasal swab.

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6. Stop smoking well in advance of surgery. Smokers are 3X as likely to develop surgical site infections.

7. Remind your doctor that you may need an antibiotic one hour before the first incision. (this depends upon the type of surgery but is a critical time period)

8. Do not shave the surgical site. Razors can cause small nicks in the skin and allow infection.

9. Avoid putting food or utensils on furniture or hospital bed sheets.

10. Ask your doctor about monitoring your glucose levels continuously during and after
surgery, especially cardiac surgery. Tight glucose control helps patients resist infection.

11. If possible avoid a urinary tract catheter. (This is not always possible but be aware)

12. Make sure your IV is inserted under clean conditions and changed every 3-4 days.

Infection control is every one's responsibility. I know it is hard to question a caregiver when you are the patient, but these infections are absolutely preventable and we can't afford to make excuses for not doing the right thing. The evidence is clear. Now we need to make sure everyone adheres to them.

Reported by Dr. Toni Brayer, MD who blogs at Everything Health



What is your evidence for the position that "smoking increases the risk of surgical site infection" ? I am not suggesting that smoking is harmless; however, there are scant credible data in support of your statement unless you have access to some very recent, or secret, information that I do not. For example, are you talking about ALL kinds of operations? Which of the three types of surgical site infections do you mean? This issue is a lot more complex than your comments tend to indicate. Thanks. James T. Lee, MD,PhD