Like most other New Mexico residents, you not only ended up in the hospital due to a serious injury or illness but ended up getting even sicker. Hospitals are supposed to make you better. Right? So why did you, and so many other people, end up with infections that not only require you to need more medical attention but could also threaten your life?
Serious illnesses and severe injuries mean compromised immune systems. This leaves you and other patients more vulnerable to infections the medical field calls "nosocomial" infections. If medical professionals have a name for these infections, then why don't they take the necessary steps to prevent them? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1.7 million people acquire these infections in hospitals each year. Almost 100,000 people end up losing their lives to them.
So, how do these infections happen?
You probably expect hospitals to be some of the cleanest places in the country, and the problem is that they contain lots of sick people. Germs and bacteria spread from the patients. Right? Wrong. That is not always the case.
Many of these infections spread through contact and through the air. Sneezing and coughing are the primary ways that airborne infections spread. Hospitals don't necessarily confine patients to their rooms, and as they roam the halls, they may spread germs. Healthy visitors and medical staff may also carry these infections throughout the hospital in the same manner as well.
Some sort of germs or bacteria covers nearly every surface in a hospital. You may expect this from a remote, phone or television but not from other surfaces. You expect bathrooms, floors and the other furniture in your hospital room to be sanitary. Those aren't the only problem areas, however. Stethoscopes, catheters, medical devices and surgical tools can also carry bacteria and germs. Without the appropriate sanitary precautions, you could contract an infection from any of these items or surfaces, along with the hospital staff itself.
It's difficult to protect yourself
Unless you are lucky enough to be in a private room at the hospital with the lowest number of hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA, C. Diff or necrotizing fasciitis, in which your cleanliness-conscious doctor has privileges, you may find it difficult to protect yourself from contracting an infection. If you have foreknowledge of your hospital stay, or you can rely on a friend or family member, you could take some steps to reduce the likelihood of infection:
- Insist that the doctors, nurses and other medical staff who enter your room wash their hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. Even if they say they just did, ask them to do it again in your presence because hand sanitizer and gloves are not enough to protect you.
- Use disinfecting wipes and sprays to clean the germs off the surfaces you will be touching.
- You could wear a germ-filtering mask, especially if your hospital roommate coughs or sneezes frequently.
- Ask that staff clean any equipment, device or other object that will touch you.
You may not be able to make these requests of everyone who comes into your room, so it may be helpful to use those wipes and sprays after visits from friends, family or other hospital staff members who may enter your room. Even the person who brings your meals could carry an infection.
Even though you could take these precautions, the hospital should do what it can to protect you and increase your safety. Hospitals are aware of the potential for these infections and know how they spread. It's imperative that they properly train their staff and ensure that everyone follows cleanliness and infectious disease protocols.