If you or a loved one is visiting a hospital (also known as an acute care facility) for surgery or another medical procedure, there are some important things you need to know to prevent infections.
Why is infection prevention important for patients in hospitals?
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 25 people in the U.S. get healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in hospitals each year. Unfortunately, nearly 75,000 people in hospitals die each year with these infections.
- Pneumonia, central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI), methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), surgical site infections (SSI), and catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) are the common HAIs that occur in hospital settings.
- These infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
- HAIs cause more illness to the patient, prolong hospital stay, and increase healthcare costs.
What patients can do:
- Remind your healthcare provider to clean their hands before caring for you. This is especially important if they are handling a dressing or touching an incision. Cleaning hands is still important even if they will be putting on gloves.
- If you have a urinary catheter, do not pull or twist the catheter tubing.
- If you have an intravenous catheter, avoid touching it and don’t get it wet. Notify your nurse or doctor if the bandage becomes wet, dirty, or comes off.
- If you go home with a catheter, wash your hands before and after touching it.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, be as active as allowed, and perform breathing exercises, if instructed by your healthcare provider. This helps prevent pneumonia.
- Prior to surgery or another procedure, discuss other health problems that you have with your doctor.
- If you have diabetes, it is especially important to follow your diabetic diet carefully in the weeks before surgery.
- Stop smoking, at least until after you have recovered from surgery.
What patients can observe/ask:
- Ask your healthcare provider to clean their hands before they touch you. It’s OK to ask them to clean their hands if you have not seen them do so.
- If you have a urinary catheter, ask if the catheter is necessary and how long it will be in place. Make sure your healthcare professionals cleans their hands before touching and inserting the urinary catheter.
- If you have a urinary catheter, make sure the urine bag is always kept below the bladder to prevent back flow of urine from the bag.
- If you have a central line, make sure the person inserting the line has washed their hands and that they are also wearing sterile gloves and gown, a cap, and a face mask.
- Make sure your skin is cleaned with antiseptic and allowed to dry before a centrally placed intravenous catheter is inserted; also make sure that your entire body, including your face, is covered with a sterile drape.
- Before anything is injected into the central line, make sure that the healthcare professional scrubs the entry port vigorously for at least 15 seconds.
- Ask when your central line can be discontinued.
- If your healthcare provider has prescribed you antibiotics, be sure to ask the following questions:
- “Do I really need an antibiotic?”
- “Can I get better without this antibiotic?”
- “What side effects or drug interactions can I expect?”
- “What side effects should I report to you?”
- “How do you know what kind of infection I have? I understand that antibiotics won’t work for viral infections.”
What family members or other visitors can do:
- Clean their hands before and after visiting you.
- Don’t touch any surgical wounds or dressings.
- Observe that the healthcare professional cleans their hands before touching the patient. It’s ok to ask them to clean their hands if you haven’t seen them do so.
- If the patient you are visiting is on a ventilator, ask their nurse if oral hygiene is performed daily.
- Do not play or handle the patient’s ventilator tube.
Learn more and share:
- Infection prevention basics—Infection Prevention and You
- Ask about your medications—Infection Prevention and You
- Keeping your hospital room clean—APIC consumer alert
- Surgical site infection—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Patient resources—Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America