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Avoiding deadly hospital-acquired infections

There are a number of reasons so many people dread going to the hospital. In addition to the likelihood of pain and embarrassment, hospitals are places where lots of sick people congregate. That means they are prime locations to spread bacteria and germs. Some people avoid medical care for the fear of succumbing to new illnesses encountered at the hospital. While it is not a good idea to delay or avoid needed medical treatment, the fear of getting sick because of a hospital visit is valid.

Sepsis is a serious condition that occurs most frequently in hospital patients. Sepsis is not tied to a specific pathogen, but rather can result from any type of infection, including viral, bacterial and fungal infections. That said, sepsis is a growing concern due to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals all over the country. Sepsis is painful, debilitating, and can lead to organ failure and death. In fact, the Sepsis Alliance reports that sepsis kills more than a quarter of a million Americans every year.

How to avoid infection

The key to avoiding sepsis is to prevent the initial infection from taking root. In a hospital setting, there are several ways you can reduce your odds of getting sick:

  • Move quickly through your treatment – After surgery, patients are often encouraged to get up and move around as soon as they are able. Post-surgical pain can be intense, but it is important to work through it and move around as soon as possible. This helps reduce the chances of developing pneumonia and can get you discharged sooner. The sooner you can check out and go home, the better off you are.
  • Don’t touch anything or anyone, and don’t let them touch you – Infections are spread by hands. Doctors and nurses wear gloves to keep themselves from getting sick. Gloved hands can spread germs to you as easily as bare hands. Any unnecessary physical contact should be avoided. Insist that people, including medical personnel, wash their hands thoroughly before administering treatment.
  • Obey your doctor’s orders – Directions concerning diet, hygiene and lifestyle should be followed to the letter. If the doctor tells you to wash a wound three times a day, you need to make and follow a schedule that allows you to do so. If the doctor tells you to quit smoking in advance of a procedure, you need to do that, too. These orders can be cumbersome, but septic shock is a far worse fate than a few weeks off your normal routine.
  • Speak up – When can your IV come out? When can your catheter come out? What should the surgical wound look like? What are the signs of a potential infection? Why does my side hurt? What should a normal recovery feel like? When can I go home? Asking questions is not presumptuous. It is not too much to ask for doctors or nurses to explain things properly. Your health is more important to you than to anyone else, including your doctor. Always speak up when you have a question. It is your right.

Infections are not the only way for medical care to go wrong, but they are a major problem. Take the time to inform yourself about infection prevention and you could avoid a dangerous, even deadly form of medical negligence.

Source: HealthZette, “Five Hospital Safety Steps You Can’t Ignore,” by Stephanie Bucklin, 10 May 2017

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