How We Can Prevent Healthcare-Related Infections

As part of our coverage of International Infection Prevention Week, today we’d like to talk about healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) and how we can combat their spread.

First of all, let’s define what these infections are:

HAIs are infections you can catch while receiving treatment for another condition. Patients mainly catch these conditions in hospitals, but they are also a possibility at dialysis centers, long-term care facilities, and outpatient surgery centers.

These infections come from various bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They cause devastating illness and even death, and they’re unfortunately all too common. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, around 1 in 25 hospital inpatients have a hospital care-related infection at any given time.

There are four main types of infections you could get at a hospital. If you have a loved one in the hospital, or who needs a procedure, this article will explain what you should look out for.

Central Line-associated Bloodstream Infection (CLABSI)

A central venous line is most often used in intensive care settings. It’s a catheter placed into a large vein, most commonly in the neck, chest, or groin. The nurse administers medications or fluids through the catheter, and it’s also used for obtaining blood samples for certain tests.

Central lines are different from the typical IV you’re probably familiar with, because they access major veins that are closer to the heart. They can also stay in place for weeks or even months. Both these factors significantly raise the risk of serious infection.

CLABSI is an infection that happens when bacteria or viruses enter the bloodstream through the central line. The risk of contamination can happen at the time of insertion, when checking the line, and when changing the dressing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, healthcare providers must follow strict sterility protocol when inserting or checking the central line. They should also wash their hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based handrub, before and after touching the line.

If your loved one is in need of a central venous line, here’s what you can do to help prevent infection:

  • Research the hospital’s CLABSI rate.
  • Pay attention to the healthcare personnel’s practices, and speak up if something doesn’t seem up to par.
  • Discuss the central line’s necessity with the patient’s doctor, and only consent to the insertion if it is absolutely necessary.
  • Understand why the patient needs it, and how long it will be in place. If that time passes and the line is still present, find out if the patient still truly needs it.
  • If you notice the bandage off, or the area is wet or dirty, tell a nurse right away.
  • If the patient has a fever or chills, call the nurse immediately.
  • Don’t let the patient or any visitors touch the tubing.
  • All visitors must wash their hands, both before and after the visit.

Catheter-associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI)

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is any infection occurring in the urinary system. UTIs are the most common type of hospital-acquired infections. Around 3/4 of such UTIs come when bacteria enter the bladder through the urinary catheter. An in-dwelling urinary catheter is a tube that drains urine from the bladder into a closed collection system.

Since the main risk factor for developing a CAUTI is using the catheter for too long, catheters should be used sparingly. A healthy adult can usually get rid of a UTI with the help of strong antibiotics, but when a sick person contracts the infection, they are at risk of developing many other complications, lengthened hospital stays, and sometimes even death.

If your loved one needs a urinary catheter, make sure it’s removed as soon as possible; the catheters are placed using proper aseptic technique; and the closed sterile drainage system is maintained.

Ventilator-associated Pneumonia (VAP)

A ventilator, or respirator, is a form of life support. It helps critically ill patients breathe by giving oxygen through a tube running through the mouth or nose, or through a hole in the front of the neck. Germs may enter through the tube and infect the lungs, causing pneumonia.

Keeping the head of the bed raised 30–45 degrees can help prevent infection, as well as following appropriate sanitizing protocol when touching the patient or ventilator. Cleaning the patient’s mouth regularly can also help.

Of course, the longer the patient is on a ventilator, the higher chance they have of contracting pneumonia. As the patients loved one and advocate, you should request regular evaluations of the patient’s condition to check if they can be weaned off the machine. In addition, you can make sure the hospital is following the other prevention techniques listed above.

Surgical Site Infection (SSI)

Any entrance into the body is in danger of attracting infectious bacteria and other malicious microbes. The surgical site—the location of a recent surgery—is no exception. Sometimes these infections are superficial, only affecting the skin around the wound. Other times, bacteria can get inside the surgical site and infect body tissue or organs.

Even the sites of simple surgical procedures can become infected. At Park Crescent, one of our specialties is wound care for post-surgical infections. Here is what we recommend you do before you or your loved one undergoes surgery:

  • Discuss your full medical history—even unrelated conditions—with your doctor before you go under the knife. Having diabetes, for example, can affect your wound healing.
  • Smokers have more post-surgery infections than non-smokers. Try to stop smoking at least a month before your surgery.
  • Follow all instructions regarding cleaning your skin before the surgery.
  • After surgery, make sure each provider cleans their hands before checking the wound.
  • Don’t all visitors to touch the wound or dressings.
  • Have all visitors wash their hands before and after visiting.
  • If there are any symptoms of an infection, such as redness and pain at the surgery site, drainage, or fever, call your doctor immediately.

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