Tips on avoiding hospital-acquired infections

Follow these suggestions to prevent spreading and acquiring infections in the hospital

woman visiting patient in hospitalHospitals are pooling places for sick patients and all the germs they may carry. Just walking into one may put you at a greater risk of catching an infection. Infants, elderly and the immunosuppressed are particularly vulnerable.

In medical parlance, infections acquired from a hospital are referred to as nosocomial or hospital-acquired infections [HAIs]. HAIs are caused by superbugs—bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and are therefore difficult to kill. Luckily, a large proportion of HAI is preventable.

Wash hands

Washing hands is the single most important way to prevent infections, yet the compliance rate for hand hygiene is highly variable even among healthcare personnel. Wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching surfaces or objects in the hospital room and definitely before eating. This destroys most of the disease-causing germs on your hands, reducing your chances of cross-contamination.

The correct way to wash is to use soap and water for at least 15 seconds, bringing the soap to lather. You can also use an alcohol-based sanitiser. Using sanitisers for about 15 – 30 seconds should do the trick. Remember to clean your hands before as well as after entering and leaving a ward.

Doing it before prevents the patient from getting contaminated with the germs that you may bring with you, and washing after protects you from germs that may be present in the ward.

Don't touch

Sometimes it is hard not to comfort the person you are visiting in the hospital. And this often means touching her. But if you refrain from this type of contact, then you also limit the spread of germs and hospital infections.

We all have germs regardless of what we do or where we have been and we pass them on by touching other people. Limiting your contact will help prevent the spreading of hospital infections. In addition, totally refrain from sitting on the patient's bed, touching wounds, drips or things used by the patient.

Stay at home if unwell

If you are unwell—are coughing, have a runny nose, stomach upset, or something else that just isn't right; don't visit a patient in the hospital. First of all, as you walk through the hospital, you could be passing germs as you cough and sniffle.

An upset stomach [vomiting or diarrhea in the last 48 hours] could be due to a germ that you could pass on to others around. Besides, when you are unwell, your immunity is low due to your illness, which puts you at a great risk of contracting hospital infections.

Know the signs of infection

Even if the hospital takes every possible precaution, you can still catch an infection. Learn to recognise the signs, which include fever, abscess formation and weakness. If you experience any of such symptoms after a visit to a hospital, consult your physician immediately.

Don't visit patients in isolation

If the person you are visiting is kept in isolation, first of all it's best not to visit. Patients are kept in isolation because they are suffering from something that is highly infectious or are very susceptible to catching infections.

Still, due to some reason, if you feel compelled to be there, consult with the nursing staff before going in. The nurses will prepare you completely by giving you protective gear. Also, taking children in an isolation ward is a strict no-no. If you are visiting more than one patient in the same hospital, visit the patient in isolation last.

Avoid eating in a hospital

At all costs, avoid having food in the hospital wards as the environment may be loaded with bugs. This is especially true for food that is stored or transported around.

However, family members of patients admitted in the hospital sometimes have no choice but to stay with the patient and have food there. In that case, ensure that you eat at a cafeteria or place that is away from the treatment/recuperation areas.

Clean yourself thoroughly

After a hospital visit, have a bath, as even though you may have not touched anything there, you may still have carried germs home. Body hygiene, especially the hands as discussed in the beginning, is the cornerstone for such infection prevention. It is also advisable to wash the clothes that you wore to the visit in water mixed with a disinfectant.

By following the suggestions mentioned above, you will be able to prevent spreading and acquiring infections in the hospital. Take them seriously; hospital infections, once acquired, are difficult to treat with available antibiotics, as they are usually multi-drug resistant.

The most effective way of preventing such cross-contamination is to avoid visits to hospitals as far as possible and visiting the patient after recovery in the environment of his/her home; this not only avoids your exposure to hospital infections but also helps in speeding the patient's recovery.

Try this

Hospital infections can be fatal, particularly if you acquire the Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus [MRSA] or the antibiotic-resistant superbug.

According to Ayurveda, a germ can infect only those who have a compromised immune system. Thankfully there are a few herbs that can help you fight the bugs.

Turmeric: When you are infected, have some turmeric as medicine. Turmeric is a natural antibiotic and is good for treating infections of the respiratory tract and skin, according to a University of Maryland Medical Center study.

Guduchi: This herb eliminates E. coli and respiratory tract infection, says a 2003 Indian Journal of Pharmacology report.

Triphala: This wonderful herb prevents the growth of bacteria, says a University of Madras 2006 study.

— Team CW

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