MRSA and Other Hospital-Acquired Infections: Reducing Your Risks
Hospitals are crawling with viruses and bacteria, and infection is always toward the top of the list in studies of complications after surgery, says Fran Griffin, RRT, MPA, a director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass.
But there's still a lot you can do to lower your risk of getting MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or other hospital-acquired infections. Here are some tips.
Before surgery, ask if you will need antibiotics. Usually, antibiotics are given shortly before surgery and stopped within 24 hours to reduce the risk of wound infections. But don't just assume you're getting antibiotics: ask if you are. If you aren't, ask why.
Before surgery, ask how hair will be removed at the surgical site. If hair needs to be removed it should be done with electric hair clippers rather than a razor. A razor can result in tiny cuts that can become infected. And the CDC recommends that if hair is removed it should be done immediately before surgery. Shaving should not be the night before an operation because that is associated with higher rates of surgical skin infections.
Ask everyone -- including doctors and nurses -- to wash their hands. This is a key way to prevent the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Don't let anyone touch you who has not washed his or her hands in your presence. "It's your health," says Peter B. Angood, MD, co-director, International Center for Patient Safety, "so you need to make sure that health care providers are washing their hands and protecting you." Although you might feel awkward about asking a doctor or nurse to wash, you need to speak up. Besides, most hospitals now have policies that staff should be washing their hands in front of the patient anyway, Griffin says.
Tell family members to stay away if they're sick. It can be hard to keep some dedicated well-wishers away. But remind loved ones that if they are sick, even with a mild cold, they must stay away until you've fully recovered.
Know the signs of infection. Before you're discharged, make sure you understand what to watch for. How will you know if your incision is getting infected? What will it look like? How will it feel? If you don't know these things, you might assume that dangerous signs of a hospital-acquired infection are just normal postoperative pain.
"There are so many stories of people just toughing it out when they should have gotten help," says Carolyn Clancy, MD, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in Rockville, Md.