Infections of the lungs, wounds, urinary tract and bloodstream can be contracted in hospital. These are called healthcare-associated infections or HAI. Getting such an infection can make a hospital stay even more uncomfortable or even dangerous. There are things you can do before and during your stay in hospital that will help reduce the chance of getting an infection during your stay.
All people admitted to hospital are at some risk of contracting an HAI. Some people are more vulnerable than others including:
- Very young people – premature babies and very sick children
- The frail and the elderly
- Those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes
- People with defective immunity such as people treated with chemotherapy or with HIV
Other risk factors that may increase your likelihood of acquiring an HAI include:
- A long hospital stay.
- Complex or multiple illnesses.
- Operations and surgical procedures.
- Inadequate hand hygiene practices by hospital staff.
- Overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistant bacteria, which means that antibiotics become less effective.
- Invasive procedures that require the use of equipment such as urine catheters, IV drips, respiratory equipment and drain tubes can introduce infection into the body.
- Some areas of the hospital are more likely to have infection, such as intensive care units (ICU).
The most common types of infection acquired in hospitals are:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Wound infection
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Blood infection.
- “Superbug” infections can occur as well and are hard to treat because they are resistant to standard antibiotics.
Some examples of superbugs are:
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus – VRE
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
Controlling infection the risk in hospital is accomplished by:
- Strict hospital infection prevention procedures and policies
- Correct and frequent hand hygiene measures by all hospital staff and patients
- Cautious use of antibiotic medication.
Before admission to hospital you can do several things to reduce your chance for infection:
- Stop smoking — smoking can interfere with healing processes. It also damages the airways, which can make lung infections more likely.
- Maintain a healthy weight — people who are overweight are more prone to infection.
- Inform your doctor of recent illness — a cold or the flu can lead to a chest infection.
- Manage diabetes — if you are a diabetic, make sure that your blood sugar levels are under control.
During your stay things that you can do to reduce infection include:
- Make sure that you wash your hands properly, especially after using the toilet.
- If you have an IV drip, let your nurse know if the site around the needle painful or wet.
- Tell your nurse if dressings are not clean, dry and attached around any wounds you may have.
- Let your nurse know if tubes or catheters feel displaced.
- Do your deep breathing exercises which are very important because they can help prevent a lung infection.
- Make sure every caregiver who visits has cleansed their hands.
If you get an infection in hospital the following things may be done:
- Antibiotic treatment after cultures are done.
- Isolation in a single room.
- Being put last on the operation surgery list.
- Being nursed by staff wearing gloves and gowns.
Where to get help
- Your ID Care physician can help evaluate, diagnose and treat a hospital infection should one be suspected. Early involvement of the Infectious diseases consultant provides the best proven method to reduce risk, complications and assure proper treatment for a HAI.
Dr. Ronald G. Nahass