Consumer Reports recently published a report on the germ warfare going on in hospitals and provided information on how to protect yourself from infections during a hospital stay. In the study, more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals were rated on the occurrence of MRSA (a form of staph bacteria), C.diff (clostridium difficile), and other deadly infections. Check the Consumer Reports Ratings to see how hospitals in your community compare in preventing infections and other measures of hospital safety.

The report states: “You might think of hospitals as sterile safety zones in that battle. But in truth, they are ground zero for the invasion.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 648,000 people in the U.S. develop infections during a hospital stay, and about 75,000 die with them. Consumer Reports makes the following recommendations to reduce exposure to dangerous bacteria.

How to minimize risk of infections during a hospital stay

  • Ask for a MRSA test. A simple nasal swab can detect low levels of MRSA and allow medical staff to take precautions.
  • Insist on cleanliness. Ask to have your room cleaned if it looks dirty.
  • Use bleach wipes. Bed rails, doorknobs, and the TV remote are hot zones for germs.
  • Insist that everyone who enters your room wash hands.
  • Keep your own hands clean.
  • Question antibiotics. Confirm with your health care provider that anti­biotics prescribed to you in the hospital are needed and appropriate for your condition.
  • Be careful with heartburn drugs. Medications such as Nexium and Prilosec increase the risk of developing C. diff symptoms because they reduce stomach acid that helps keep the bug in check.
  • Have any IVs, catheters, etc., removed as soon as appropriate. The risk of infection increases the longer foreign objects are left in place.
  • Don’t use razors. If you need to be shaved, use an electric hair remover, not a razor, because any nick can provide an opening for infection.

Minimizing your risk once you get home

And the risk does not end once you are discharged. “Assume you’ve been exposed to potentially dangerous bacteria,” says Lisa McGiffert, director of the Consumer Reports Safe Patient Project. When you get home from a hospital stay, there are several things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.

  • Watch for warning signs, such as fever, diarrhea, worsening pain. A warm, red, and swollen incision site also indicates infection.
  • Practice better than average hygiene. If you contract a hospital-acquired infection after being discharged from the hospital, take extra precautions to make sure that it doesn’t spread. Clean frequently touched surfaces with a 10:1 bleach water. If possible, reserve a bathroom for the infected person. Don’t share utensils, toiletries or towels.

Adults older than 65, as well as infants, anyone on antibiotics, and people with a compromised immune system are more at risk for infections during a hospital stay or at home during recovery.

Assisted Living Services wants Connecticut seniors to be aware of these issues. If you or your senior loved one have any questions, please contact our office at (203) 634-8668.