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Avoiding Infections from Medical Care

It’s ironic that while you go to the hospital to get well, the hospital itself can make you sick. As a patient, you want to heal and get home as quickly as possible. We want that for you, too.

Unfortunately, a patient threat is lurking in medical facilities that can prolong your stay – healthcare-associated infections (HAI). Caused by germs, including viruses and bacteria resistant to antibiotics, these infections strike when you’re most vulnerable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 25 hospital patients will contract an HAI, some of which can be very serious.

While the statistics feel grim, the CDC has hope, identifying the fight against HAIs as a “winnable battle.” By implementing evidence-based, cost-effective strategies, healthcare providers can reduce the number of HAIs in America. You can, too, by taking steps to protect yourself when hospitalized.

Be sure to share and discuss these tips with your loved ones, in case they ever need to advocate for you (or you for them).


  1. Speak up/ask questions.

Be honest with your doctor or nurse about any medical problems you have. If you notice any changes or see signs of infection, let them know. Diarrhea, for example, may feel awkward to talk about but can be a sign of deadly complications that your doctor needs to know. Also, don’t be afraid to express your concerns or ask direct questions like:

  • What are you doing to protect me?
  • Is this catheter/urinary catheter necessary? (Ask this every day, as leaving a catheter in place too long increases the risk of getting an infection.)


  1. Remember, clean hands save lives.

Insist that everyone who comes into your room washes their hands before touching you. If you don’t see them do it, ask them to do it. It’s a reasonable request when talking about saving your life. Another invaluable hygiene rule: cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze (and ask others to do the same). This can help stop germs from traveling 3 feet or more.


  1. Use antibiotics as prescribed.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is an appropriate saying describing bacteria’s relationship with antibiotics. Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics when they’re exposed to the drug for shorter periods than prescribed. This allows bacteria to grow stronger and harder to treat. To avoid this, ask your doctor if antibiotics are truly necessary. There may be alternative treatments available. If antibiotics are your best course, make sure to take them exactly as prescribed. This not only benefits you but the next person the bacteria could come in contact with.


  1. Get vaccinated.

Encourage family, friends and caregivers to get vaccinated, too. Health plans cover many preventive care vaccines like flu shots and can be performed at pharmacies, making them inexpensive and convenient.


  1. Know the signs of infection.

HAIs tend to develop in five common infection sites: the bloodstream, urinary tract, gut, surgery sites and lungs. Signs of sepsis (infection) for any of these sites include shivering, fever or very cold, clammy or sweaty skin, short breath or rapid breathing, high heart rate, and extreme pain or discomfort. Surgery site indications include redness, pain or drainage. Talk to your doctor about what to look out for – and express any concerns you have.

By being informed and prepared, you can help prevent the spread of infection and keep your healing on schedule – letting you get home and back to your life as soon as possible. For more information about the CDC’s battle against HAIs, visit their website.

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