How you can help stop hospital infections

An estimated 2 million U.S. hospital patients get infection annually. Patients are being urged to do their part to help stop infections.

Hand-washing: Hospital patients and visitors should wash their hands frequently, especially after eating, using restrooms, coughing or sneezing, or touching surfaces such as bed rails, door knobs and remote controls.

Soap: When using soap and warm water, rub hands and fingers for at least 15 seconds or as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Some hospitals suggest patients ask doctors, nurses, even friends and relatives, if they've washed their hands.

Alcohol-based rubs: Many hospitals have added dispensers in lobbies and hallways. Rub with liquid for at least 15 seconds until hands feel dry, but do not rinse or dry with a towel. Those people visiting or treating patients infected with Clostridium difficile should stick with soap and water, because alcohol sanitizers don't kill C. difficile spores.

Gloves and gowns: Visitors may be instructed to wear disposable gowns and gloves before coming in contact with an infected patient. They should wash their hands before donning gloves to avoid transferring bacteria onto the gloves.

Equipment: Patients should ask their doctors to wipe the flat surface of stethoscopes with alcohol before use, patient advocates suggest. They can monitor the use of their own urinary tract catheters and intravenous feeding tubes, making sure they are removed as soon as possible and that health care workers changing tubes or dressings are wearing gloves, advocates say.

Education: Ask surgeons for their infection rates.

The California Department of Public Health now posts infection rates for 383 hospitals in two reports at 1.usa.gov/imqfdw. (See first two links under "HAI Program Reports").

Also, new federal data for Medicare patients show vascular and urinary tract catheter infection rates at some of California’s largest hospitals between October 2008 and June 2010.

You can find the information in this database.

Sources: Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; California Department of Public Health;  Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America; Consumers Union Patient Safety Project; Committee to Rid Infection Deaths.

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