Each year in this country an astounding 2 million people contract an infection and 90,000 of those die as a result, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the equivalent of a 747 jet plane full of passengers crashing every day.
What’s more, infection rates have risen 36 percent over the past 20 years or so. This is not a new threat. Healthcare workers and hospital administrators have long known that hospitals are an efficient superhighway for the spread of germs. Hospital infections, for some time, have been at the top of everybody’s top 10 infectious disease threats in the United States. The increase is partially because of changes in health care in this country.
In the past, most procedures were done in the hospital, but as outpatient operations have become more common, one of the results is that the people in hospitals today are sicker than they were in the past, and because they’re sicker, they’re more susceptible to infections.
HOW INFECTIONS START
Microbes are everywhere we are. They live on the objects we touch, on our skin and inside our bodies. Less than 1 percent causes disease in people. Most are harmless, and many are necessary for survival. But others, such as staphylococcus (staff), a common cause of hospital infection, can become lethal.
Urinary tract infections caused by catheters account for about 40 percent of hospital-acquired bugs. Catheters should be used for as short a period of time as possible. After six days, the risk of infection rises five or seven times. By the 30th day, infection is near universal.
Surgical wound infections make up about 30 percent of hospital-acquired germs. Bacteria typically enter at the site of the incision. Surgical technique is sometimes to blame. To help prevent infection, it’s crucial to administer antibiotics just as the surgeon makes the incision.
Pneumonia, which accounts for 20 percent of hospital infections, occurs primarily in the ICU or post-surgery recovery room. Ventilators and breathing tubes are major offenders because they dry the mucus in the lower respiratory tract, making it easier for microbes to enter.
Bloodstream infections make up the remaining 10 percent of hospital-borne bugs. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through an incision or such devices as intravenous feeding tubes and central venous catheters, which are generally threaded through a vein in the chest. Catheters are found to be one of the most lethal instruments in the hospital. day, infection is near-universal.
There’s a lot you can do before and during your hospital stay to improve your odds of going home healthy.
Things you can do before and during your hospital stay to improve your odds of going home healthy.
√ Ask if the hospital has an infection control department with at least one full-time infection control specialist for every 250 hospital beds.
√ Find out if the infection control staff members are certified in infection control (CIC) through the Certification Board of Infection Control.
√ Ask for your surgeon’s infection rate. Not all will know it (or tell you), but it’s worth a try. Two percent or lower is preferable.
√ If you have any kind of existing infections anywhere in or on your body, do not have surgery. Even if you’re undergoing something as simple as a mole removal and you have, say, a bladder infection, your risk of developing infection at the surgical site is much greater. If you have the sniffles, an upper respiratory tract infection, you don’t want to have surgery of any kind.
√ If you’re planning to undergo abdominal surgery, ask the aide to shave you immediately before the operation, instead of the night before. Bacteria will have less time to grow at the incision site.
√ For optimal protection during surgery, you need the highest level of antibiotics in your tissues when the doctor makes the first cut. Talk to your surgeon and make sure he or she begins antibiotics just as the operation begins.
√ If you’re going to need a urinary catheter or an intravenous line, talk to your doctor beforehand about having them removed as soon as possible.
√ Ask family, friends or colleagues not to visit you in the hospital if they have any kind of infection.
√ You may feel intimidated about talking to your doctor or nurses about hand washing, but even doctors say you should not let hospital workers touch you unless they’ve first washed their hands, preferably in your presence. If somebody comes into your room wearing gloves, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly and put on a new pair of gloves in your room.
√ Hospitals are allowed to sterilize and reuse some equipment. Ask the doctor or nursing staff if it’s been sterilized and ask if they will take it out of its wrapping in your presence.
√ After you leave the hospital, call your doctor if you have redness, pain or swelling around the area that was treated.
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Excerpts from Ladies Home Journal