During the last several months, the news and media have been filled with reports of “bugs” or “superbugs” that originate in hospitals and are resistant to the normal treatment methods used to eliminate them. This is not new, but the numbers of incidents are rising.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that one out of every ten patients admitted to a hospital will suffer from an infection acquired in the hospitals. Healthcare institutions will do everything in their power to avoid that situation from happening to patients, but patients need to understand about what they can do on their own to significantly reduce their risk.
Why Do Hospital Acquired Infections Occur?
There a re many causes for infection. For example, the body’s normal defense mechanism for infection; the immune system, can be vulnerable due to old age, underlying conditions such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease or any other chronic Illness.
Age also plays an important role in how strong your body is. The strongest defense against infections is your skin. Any procedure that penetrates your skin will increase your risk of obtaining an infection.
Can Hospitals Be Free of Infections?
There are no reports in the medical literature of a well documented study that proves that a hospital can be 100% free from infections. Nevertheless, there are many ways that a hospital and the patient can reduce the risk he or she has.
What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk?
If your hospitalization is elective you can start this prevention program before hand.
If you are a smoker, quit smoking! If you can’t quit reduce smoking as much as possible. Smoking does not only increase your risk of respiratory infections but also delays your wound healing process, and by doing so, increases the risk of your incision site getting infected.
Reduce your weight: Overweight patients tend to have higher rates of infections after surgery. If your condition allows you to exercise or diet, you will beneft strongly.
Control your diabetes: If you suffer from diabetes make sure it is under control before your surgery starts. Careful control of your blood sugar will decrease your risk.
During Your Stay:
Hand washing: Wash your hands carefully after handling every kind of dirty material. Do not be afraid to remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands before physical examination or before a procedure. Take good care of the dressings: Dressings should always be tight and dry. They are there to protect the incision from bacteria. If you notice that it is loose or damp, inform the nurses immediately and request a change.
Follow instructions carefully: After a procedure or during your hospitalization, the doctor might ask you to do breathing exercises or to get out of bed. These are important tasks that serve to diminish the risk of hospital acquired pneumonia. If you have pain, do not be afraid to ask for help and pain medication.
Hand washing: Always follow the same procedures as during hospitalization.
Dressing care: Do not remove the dressing until the date your doctor has instructed you to. If you have any questions because the dressing is loose or damp, contact your physician immediately.
Limit your contact with the public: Even when you feel fne, remember that your body just underwent a traumatic event. Your immune system is weak and needs time to recover. People carry all kinds of germs and bacteria around even if they do not appear to be sick. Allow suffcient time to heal.
Rest : Rest is the best remedy for regaining your strength back. If you have diffculty sleeping ask your physician for sleeping aids, especially the frst few nights following treatment.
Together, through combined efforts of hospitals and patients, the risk of hospital acquired infections can be reduced signifcantly. If you have any questions please ask your physician or visit www.cdc.gov.
Dr. Juan M. Aragon, M.D. Is the Assistant Medical Director of Hospital Clínica Bíblica in San Jose, Costa Rica. His work is concentrated around quality and outcomes management. He works for the organization in Costa Rica and around the world and is a member of the Quality of Care Committee of the Medical Tourism Association. Dr. Aragon can be reached at email@example.com