If you are like most people, when you, or one of your family members becomes ill, or has an injury which cannot be treated in your physician's office, you go to the hospital. There you hope to find a treatment that will allow you to improve. What you do not anticipate is getting another another disease, or infection, while you are there. Unfortunately, on any given day, one out of every 25 people who enters the hospital do just that. They acquire a healthcare-associated infection, or hospital acquired infections (HAI). These infections not only make them more ill than they were before but could lead to their death. The good news is, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk.
What Are Healthcare- Associated Infections?
By definition, a hospital-acquired infection, is an infection contracted in a hospital or other type of healthcare facility. The patients affected must not have shown any signs or symptoms prior to contact with the facility. Most infections occur within:
- Two days following a hospital admission
- Three days following discharge from a facility
- Thirty days following an operation
They range in severity, but most are spread by staff who move from patient to patient, and who do not practice correct hygiene in between. Some of the most commonly caused infections are:
- Clostridium Difficile (C-diff)
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia
- Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia
- Staphylococcus Aureus
- Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
- Legionnaires' Disease
- Pseudomonas Aeruginosa
- Stenotrophomonas Maltophilia
What Causes Hospital Acquired Infections?
While poor handwashing or other types of hygiene on the part of staff are one of the leading causes of infections spreading from patient to patient, they can also be spread by other means. These means include:
- Droplet transmission - Have you ever been around someone who was talking, sneezing, or coughing, and a couple days later you found yourself sick? This was because the droplets they expelled were able to travel through the air, and landed on you. Once there they were able to enter your body through your mucus membranes.
- Airborne transmission - While droplet transmissions generally travel from host to host, airborne transmissions are small enough to stay suspended in the air for a period of time. This means you may or may not actually come in contact with the person who is sick. Excellent examples of this are outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease which have been recorded among patients throughout the world. Many of these patients were infected either through heating and cooling systems, or through the plumbing system.
- Common vehicle transmission - When you are in the hospital, you will be exposed to devices and equipment that may have traveled from another patient's room to yours. Viruses and other microorganisms could have easily come along for a ride. You may also be exposed to infected food and medications.
- Vector borne transmission - Viruses and microorganisms can also hitch a ride with mosquitoes, flies, bed bugs, rodents, and other vermin. Although you would like to think these things do not exist in hospital settings, you may want to think again.
How Can You Avoid Hospital Acquired Infections?
You have taken the first step by educating yourself about the dangers of hospital acquired infections and how they are spread, but there are other things you can do to help reduce your risk.
- If you are having to be hospitalized for a planned procedure, do your research to see what the hospital's infection rate is. These rates are published on Medicare's website. If you have a choice choose the hospital with the lower rate.
- When you are having to sit in public spaces such as the emergency department, wear a mask. Although, you may not be coughing or sneezing, they will offer you a level of protection from droplet transmission from those around you.
- Insist that doctors and nurses entering your room, wash their hands. Many of them will reach for hand sanitizer, and while that is better than nothing, it is not as good as old fashioned soap and water. Asking them to do this may not make you a popular patient, but it may keep you healthier in the long run.
If you, or a family member come down with a hospital acquired infection during a medical procedure, you may have legal cause to sue the facility or the physician involved. Call a personal injury attorney and allow them to review your case. They will agree that a hospital is somewhere you should be able to go to get well, and not become more ill.