Dr. Rx: Steps you can take to avoid hospital-related infections

Dr. Rx: How to avoid hospital infections

Dr. Rx: How can I avoid getting an infection while I am in the hospital?

Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

By Christian Ruiz
Pharm.D. Candidate 2020

Q: I’m getting a procedure done at the hospital soon, and I’m afraid of getting an infection while I’m there. Is there anything I can do?

A: Infections you can develop while inside hospitals or other medical settings — including doctors’ offices, rehab facilities or nursing homes — are called healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs. They could come from germs that enter your body at a surgical site or germs that travel on medical equipment such as a catheter or an IV line.

Common HAIs include:

  • Infections caused by the bacteria C. diff (Clostridium difficile or C. difficile) or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Infections at the site where you’ve had surgery or where a catheter or an IV line has been placed into your body
  • Pneumonia or other respiratory infections from using a ventilator

There are many ways you can prevent HAIs. People using ventilators or recovering from surgeries have to take special precautions and should follow doctor’s orders. But below are some general recommendations to prevent HAIs while you are in the hospital.

  • Sanitize your own hands often with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and throw away the tissue as soon as possible. Then wash your hands.
  • Ensure that your doctors and nurses sanitize their hands before and after they leave your room. Also be sure they are wearing any necessary personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and/or masks while in your room. This is to protect you and them from HAIs. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Ensure that visitors sanitize their hands before and after they leave your room. Also, ensure they follow any special instructions from doctors and nurses while they visit you, which may include wearing gloves, gowns or masks.
  • If you do need a catheter, ask your doctors and nurses why it is needed and when it will be removed. Your risk of getting a HAI increases with the number and duration of catheters placed into your body.

You might have a HAI if you have recently been in the hospital and experience:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Unexpected pain, tenderness, redness, or swelling at the site where you’ve had surgery or where a catheter or an IV line has been placed into your body

If you think you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctors or nurses immediately. Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have a HAI, but if you do have a health-care-related infection you want to be treated for it as soon as possible in order to prevent further complications.

If your doctor does determine that you have a HAI, he/she will likely prescribe you an antibiotic. However, be sure to take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed in order to prevent another HAI or an even worse one.

Christian Ruiz is a third-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy. He majored in chemistry and minored in music and biology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation he currently hopes to pursue a career in emergency medicine, critical care or internal medicine.

Dr. Rx is a monthly community-health column provided as a public service by VCU School of Pharmacy. It can be read in Fifty Plus magazine as well as online. 

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