Halting Hospital Patient Infections

Infection prevention campaign aims to curb the spread of avoidable infections among those who are hospitalized

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's not uncommon for hospitalized patients to have weakened immune systems that aren't able to fight off infections. And that can make a hospital stay a risk to sick people.

Helping to stop the spread of infectious illness in healthcare facilities is the reason behind International Infection Prevention Week — which runs October 20 through 26.

"Cleanliness protects against hospital infections."

Laura Buford, RN, BSN, CIC, told dailyRX News that just about everyone who comes in contact with a hospitalized patient can play a role in protecting that ailing person from avoidable diseases spread by human contact.

"Healthcare personnel, patients and even families," said Buford, listing those key players in infection prevention.

"Each year, nearly 100,000 lives are lost due to preventable healthcare-associated infections. This is a tragedy. [We] want to raise awareness of the issue and empower everyone on how they can help to reduce this number."

Reducing the tally of infectious illnesses isn't that hard, added Buford, who works in infection prevention at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas.

"So often, people forget about the basics. They forget about washing their hands. They forget about covering their cough," said Buford, also a member of the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). "They forget about simple cleaning. Infection prevention doesn’t have to be complicated. It truly is about doing easy things, and the results of those save lives."

Beyond this specially designated awareness week, there are ongoing efforts to curb hospital-borne infections. APIC's “Infection Prevention and You” campaign, in part, encourages patients themselves to champion their own safety against hospital infections. They include:

  • Asking whether to bathe with germ-killing soap prior to surgery
  • Taking all medications as directed
  • Ensuring that needled syringes are sterile, only used once and then properly disposed of
  • Requesting that an untidy room be cleaned
  • Asking daily whether it's time for removal of a catheter, which can result in urinary tract infections

Also, according to APIC, patients and others should sneeze into their elbows instead of their hands, which touch other people and objects.

Those at highest risk for becoming infected or having the hardest time bouncing back from infectious disease include the very young, very old, and individuals whose immune systems are consistently weak, Buford said.

With flu season looming — and avoidance of the flu on many people's minds — those groups that are especially at risk deserve added attention and protection, Buford said. Those three at-risk groups should have limited contact with carriers of the flu or, for that matter, all other infections.

Special care should be given to the cleanliness and safety of their food. Everyone who comes into contact with those vulnerable populations should wash their hands. And, Buford added, "Don’t visit if you are sick."

People who have been sick should also be mindful that they can be "... re-infected," Buford said, "or, at least prolong your illness, if you don't wash your hands [regularly]."

According to Bobby Floyd, an Executive Vice President of Hospital Housekeeping Systems and dailyRx Contributing Expert, “The most important measure in infection prevention is hand washing. Don’t hesitate to ask any personnel or visitors to wash their hands before coming into contact with the patient. Also, make sure all medical personnel—doctors, nurses or housekeeping puts on a new pair of gloves every time they enter the room.”

Floyd continued, "Patients also shouldn't hesitate to ask the housekeeping or nursing staff to clean and disinfect all high-touch items within the room: light switches, call lights, the telephone, bed rails, the intravenous pump, over-bed table, sink/toilet fixtures, and door handles. These areas are ones which are typically touched by several people throughout the day, and pose a higher risk of collecting harmful bacteria if not regularly cleaned."

Review Date: 
October 18, 2013
Last Updated:
October 24, 2013