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How to prevent infections during your hospital stay

Tips for visitors

  • Do not visit if you feel sick.
  • Cleanse your hands with soap and water or use a waterless alcohol handrub before you enter and when you leave.
  • Cleanse your hands more often if you are helping to care for someone.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your upper arm. Throw away used tissues and cleanse your hands.
  • Follow any directions from the health care team.

Hand hygiene

Cleansing hands is the easiest way to reduce the risk of spreading germs that cause infections.

  • Wash your hands regularly and after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, before eating or leaving your room.
  • If you cannot get to a sink, please ask your health care provider for a waterless alcohol handrub.
  • Please ask your health care team members and visitors if they have cleansed their hands before touching you. They remove germs from their hands with a waterless alcohol handrub or with soap and water to protect you.
  • Before you or anyone handles or cares for your baby, make sure that hands have been cleansed.

How to wash your hands

  1. Use soap and warm, running water.
  2. Wet your hands.
  3. Put some soap on your hands.
  4. Rub your hands together for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Cover all surfaces, including between your fingers and under fingernails.
  5. Rinse with running water.
  6. Dry your hands with a paper towel.
  7. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.

To use alcohol rub, dispense a walnut-sized amount onto your hand and rub until dry before touching anything.

Cough or sneeze hygiene (respiratory hygiene)

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper arm.
  • Turn away from other people in the room.
  • Put the used tissue in the waste basket. Cleanse your hands after handling a tissue or sneezing/coughing into your hands.
  • You may be asked to wear a surgical mask when leaving your room.

Remember

You are an important part of the health care team.

Special precautions

If you are placed on special precautions to prevent transmission of infection, the nurse will review what the staff will be doing and what your responsibilities are. You will also receive information about your condition.

Catheter-related bloodstream infections

A central venous catheter (line) is put into a large vein so you can get intravenous (IV) medicines, blood, fluids and/or nutrition. The line can stay in place for days or weeks.

Everyone (you and your health care team members) should cleanse their hands before and after touching the line. Health care team members will check the skin around your line sit every day for signs of infection (redness, warmth, increased drainage or pain). They will also check every day to see if the line is necessary.

Surgery site infections

  • Follow specific instructions given by your doctor for showering and cleansing your skin with a special antimicrobial product.
  • If you need hair removed from the surgery site, a member of the health care team will use clippers instead of a razor to avoid nicks in your skin. Do not shave the surgery site(s) for several days before the surgery.
  • To help prevent infection at the surgery site, you may be given an antibiotic within 60 minutes before surgery. (The antibiotic should be stopped within 24 hours after general surgery or 48 hours after heart surgery.)
  • Before you leave the hospital you will receive special instructions on how to prevent infection when caring for your incision(s).

Tell your nurse if your incision is warm, painful, red, or has increased drainage.

Urinary catheter-related infections

Your chance of infection increases the longer your catheter remains in place. Tell your nurse if the urinary catheter comes out or it you have pain, pressure, or the sudden urge to urinate.

Ventilator-associated pneumonia

A ventilator is a machine that helps you breathe and supplies extra oxygen to the lungs. Ventilator-associated pneumonia is a lung infection you can get while connected to the ventilator.

To prevent a lung infection:

  • the head of the bed may be elevated (raised)
  • you may receive medicines to prevent ulcers and blood clots
  • the health care team will check you each day to see if you can try breathing on your own.

How you can avoid getting an infection

  • To prevent pneumonia, follow the breathing instructions you get from your health care team. Ask your nurse or doctor about the influenza and pneumonia vaccines (shots).
  • Smoking can lead to infections. If you smoke and need help to stop, please tell your nurse. Allina Health hospitals do not allow smoking.
  • If you have diabetes, ask your doctor about the best ways to control your blood glucose. High blood glucose can increase your risk of infection.

Report concerns about safety to your nurse or to the hospital's patient representative office.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, How to Prevent Infections During Your Hospital Stay, ic-ahc-33302

Information adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota Department of Health, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the Surgical Care Improvement Project Partnership, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.


Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
First Published: 11/01/2004
Last Reviewed: 06/03/2011