How to prevent infections during your hospital stay

Hand hygiene

Cleansing hands, known as hand hygiene, is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections. This includes the common cold, flu and even infections that are hard to treat such as Methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA).

  • Perform hand hygiene regularly and after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, before eating, before and after changing dressings or bandages, and when entering or leaving your room.
  • If you cannot get to a sink, please ask your health care provider for a waterless alcohol hand rub or wipes.

To wash your hands:

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

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

Cough/sneeze hygiene (respiratory hygiene)

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper arm or elbow.
  • 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.
  • If your visitor has a cough remind him or her to also cover a cough, wear a mask or both.

Special precautions

If you are placed on special precautions to prevent transmission of infection, the nurse will explain the reason for precautions, what the staff will be doing and what your responsibilities are.

Catheter-related bloodstream infections

A central line (central venous catheter including PICC lines), is a catheter (tube) put into a large vein in your arm, neck, chest or groin. You will receive medicines, blood, fluids or nutrition through this intravenous (IV) line. It can also be used to collect blood for medical tests. The end of the catheter stops at or close to your heart in one of your great vessels.

Health care team members will check the skin around your line site 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

Here is what you can do to prevent an infection at the site of your surgery:

  • Make sure all hospital staff members clean their hands before and after touching your incision site.
  • Anyone who visits you should not touch the incision site or dressing.
  • Make sure you understand how to care for your incision site before you leave the hospital.
  • Always clean your hands before and after caring for your incision site.
  • Tell your health care provider if your incision has increased redness, increased pain, or drainage. These could be signs of infection.

Urinary catheter-related infections

Your chance of infection increases the longer your catheter remains in place.

Here is what you can do to prevent a catheter-associated urinary tract infection:

  • Make sure your catheter tubing is secured to your leg, if possible, always below the level of your bladder or hips
  • Make sure all hospital staff members clean their hands before and after touching your catheter.
  • Always keep your urine drain bag off the floor.
  • Your catheter should stay only as long as necessary. Ask your healthcare provider each day if you still need the catheter.

How to prevent pneumonia

To prevent pneumonia, follow the breathing instructions you get from your health care team. Ask your health care provider about the influenza and pneumonia vaccines (shots).

Antibiotics use

Antibiotics will only work for bacterial infections such as whooping cough, strep throat and urinary tract infections.

Infections caused by viruses (such as cold, runny nose, sore throat) will not be cured by taking antibiotics. If you have a virus, ask your health care provider for tips on how to relieve symptoms and feel better.

When you are in the hospital with a bacterial infection (such as a urinary tract infection), your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. They may be changed depending on test results.

Take antibiotics:

  • the way your health care provider says (Do not skip a dose.)
  • until it is gone, even if you start feeling better
  • if prescribed for you by your health care provider

Tips for visitors

  • Do not visit if you feel sick.
  • Cleanse your hands with soap and water or use a waterless alcohol hand rub before you enter and when you leave.
  • Follow any directions from the health care team.


You are an important part of the health care team.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, How to Prevent Infections During Your Hospital Stay, ic-ah-14015 (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.)
First Published: 11/01/2004
Last Reviewed: 11/01/2016

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.