Healthcare-acquired infections, or HAIs, are infections that you get while in a healthcare facility, such as a hospital, clinic, long-term care home. Anyone can get an infection, but people who are in these facilities are often more vulnerable to infections, which can lead to sepsis. The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health care-associated infection.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that every day, about one of every 20 patients in the hospital has an infection that they contracted while in a healthcare facility.
So why are HAIs so common? There are many ways to get an infection while you are in a healthcare facility. Many patients have invasive procedures, which means that something has been introduced into the body. This could be a urinary catheter, a tube that is inserted through the urethra to drain urine from the bladder, or even an intravenous (IV), which gives fluids and medications. Surgery is an invasive procedure, as are procedures such as colonoscopies.
Every time there is an invasive procedure, there is the potential for bacteria to enter the body. And the longer something like a catheter is in place, the longer the risk exists. Some patients contract infections, such as C. difficile, which causes extreme diarrhea, without having any invasive procedures, but because they were exposed to the bug and it got into their system. People at highest risk of catching C. difficile are those who are antibiotics – and many patients in the hospital are on antibiotics.
Healthcare-acquired infections are expensive to manage and they can cause very serious consequences to patients, including sepsis. The only way to manage HAIs effectively is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Healthcare professionals do play a role in this by using proper hygiene and sterility practices, but patients and families can also be proactive – and help reduce the risk of such infections. Wash your hands: while visiting someone in the hospital, be sure to carefully and thoroughly wash your hands each time before entering the patient’s room, and before handling food or drink the patient may consume. Remember to wash your hands when leaving as well.
If you are the patient, wash your hands as you should normally (after using the bathroom, before eating, and so on), and also after touching the bedrails and furniture in your room. If it is not possible for you to get to a sink, ask for some soapless hand wash to keep at your bedside.
Ask Questions! If your healthcare provider wants you to have an invasive procedure, ask why it is being suggested and, in cases such as urinary catheters, how long it will be for. If you have something like a catheter, you can ask regularly how long it will be and when can it be removed. Whenever healthcare providers approach you, if you haven’t seen them wash their hands, you have the right to ask them to do so. As well, you can watch to be sure they follow proper techniques for procedures such as starting an IV or taking blood. This means carefully and thoroughly cleaning the area and using gloved hands while inserting the needle or IV catheter. There are too many instances where an infection is possible, to mention them all, Here are a few of the most common ones that occur in healthcare facilities and what you can do to help reduce the risk: urinary catheters. Once you have the catheter, try to ensure the tube is not pulled on or that it doesn’t get kinked, blocking the flow of urine. As well, the catheter bag, which collects the urine as it leaves your bladder, should never touch the floor. Report any signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which could be itching or burning in the urethra, a constant need to urinate, and fever. The itchy feeling or need to urinate could be caused by irritation from the catheter itself, but if you have those symptoms and your urine is cloudy or has a foul odor, this could mean you have an infection. If it is an elderly loved one who has the catheter, the symptoms may not be obvious. However, sudden confusion in an older person frequently is a sign of an infection.
Preparing for Surgery? Because surgery involves a break in the skin, from a puncture to incisions that can be inches long, there is the potential for an infection. This risk starts in the operating room and lasts until the wound is healed. If you have been told to wash your surgery site with a special soap before your operation, be sure to do it exactly as explained. Tell your healthcare provider if you were not able to do it. If your doctor orders antibiotics to be taken ahead of time, be sure to take them exactly as prescribed. If you must take antibiotics after surgery, again, take them exactly as prescribed. When staff members come in to check your wound after surgery, if you don’t see them wash their hands, you have the right to ask them to do so. If you are handling your wound, changing the dressing, be sure to wash your own hands thoroughly and you use the clean technique that should have been explained.If you notice signs that an infection may have set in, tell your healthcare provider immediately. Signs and symptoms could be: increased pain at the site rather than decreasing pain, redness around the wound, swelling around the wound, discharge from the wound and a fever.
Patients on Ventilators. Patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) may need to be on a ventilator to help them breathe. While they are life-saving machines, ventilators also increase the risk of infections because the tube that is inserted in the throat to allow air to enter and leave the lungs, gives bacteria a direct entry way into the lungs. This can cause pneumonia. If your loved one is on a ventilator, the staff will generally ensure that the head of the bed is raised a bit (unless this is unsafe for medical reasons) and clean out his or her mouth regularly. As well, because the staff want their patients breathing on their own and off the ventilators off as quickly as possible, they will usually check at least once a day to see if this can be done. Hand washing is, again, very important for both visitors and staff.