Senior Living Q & A: Make your hospital stay infection-free

Q. I’m going into the hospital soon for surgery and I am worried about getting an infection while I’m there. Is there anything I can do to minimize my risk?

A healthcare-associated infection (HAI) is an infection that a patient gets while being treated for something else. HAIs are caused by a wide variety of common or unusual bacteria, fungi and viruses. These infections can have devastating emotional, financial and medical effects. Worst of all, they can be deadly.

HAIs are not limited to hospitals. They can happen wherever patients receive medical care — outpatient clinics, dialysis centers and long-term care facilities. As our ability to prevent HAIs grows, these infections are increasingly unacceptable.

Fortunately, the solution is clear. To prevent HAIs, everyone — you, your healthcare providers, and your visitors — should follow the infection prevention procedures described below.

Here are 10 ways to be a safe patient:

Speak up. Talk to your doctors about any worries you have about your safety and ask them what they are doing to protect you.

Keep hands clean. If you do not see your healthcare providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so. Also remind your loved ones and visitors. Washing hands can prevent the spread of germs.

Ask if you still need a central line, catheter or urinary catheter. Leaving a catheter in place too long increases the chances of getting an infection. Let your doctor or nurse know if the area around the central line becomes sore or red, or if the bandage falls off or looks wet or dirty.

Ask your healthcare provider, “Will there be a new needle, new syringe and a new vial for this procedure or injection?” Healthcare providers should never use a needle or syringe on more than one patient.

Be careful with medications. Avoid taking too much medicine by following package directions exactly. Also, to avoid harmful drug interactions, tell your doctor about all the medicines you are taking.

Get smart about antibiotics. Help prevent antibiotic resistance by taking all your antibiotics as prescribed and not sharing your antibiotics with other people. Remember that antibiotics don’t work against viruses like the ones that cause the common cold.

Prepare for surgery. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a surgical-site infection. Talk to your doctor to learn what you should do to prepare for surgery and let him or herknow about other medical problems you have.

Watch out for C. diff. (aka Clostridium difficile). Tell your doctor if you have severe diarrhea, especially if you are also taking an antibiotic.

Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Some skin infections appear as redness, pain or drainage at an IV catheter site or surgical incision site. Often these symptoms come with a fever. Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms.

Get your flu shot. Protect yourself against the flu and other complications by getting vaccinated.

By following these 10 steps, you can help make healthcare safer and help prevent healthcare-associated infections.

HAIs are not only a problem for individual healthcare facilities — they represent a public health issue that requires many people and organizations to work together in a comprehensive effort to attack these largely preventable infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently working with partners and states to implement infection prevention tools toward the elimination of HAIs.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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