What Are Hospital-Acquired Infections?
When you visit a hospital, the last thing you want is to leave worse off than when you entered. Unfortunately, for some patients, that’s exactly what happens. Hospital-acquired infections are a very real concern - so what examples of the most common hospital-acquired infections should you look out for?
Hospitals save lives.
Without hospital treatment, diseases would be more lethal, and patients would often fail to understand their ailments until it was too late. Overall, hospitals are exactly where you need to be in times of accident, emergency, or ailment.
Nevertheless, hospitals are also one of the worst places to be in times of medical trouble.
Because of hospital-acquired infections.
Today we’ll discuss what these infections are, why they occur, and how to prevent hospital-acquired infections during your next hospital stay.
What are hospital-acquired infections, and why do they happen?
Hospital-acquired infections, sometimes called healthcare-acquired infections or nosocomial infections, are exactly what they sound like - infections acquired during a stay in a hospital.
Although hospitals contain state-of-the-art technology and equipment, and healthcare professionals who have studied for years to treat patients effectively, they all have one thing in common - a large number of ill patients.
Some hospital patients are suffering from dangerous and contagious diseases. When many sick people gather together in one place, the chance for viruses and bacteria to pass from patient to patient is alarmingly high.
The chance of acquiring an infection in a hospital is especially high because many patients in the hospital have weakened immune systems already. The white blood cells of ill patients are often in no condition to prevent the transmission of new, dangerous, hospital-dwelling microbes.
Around 10% of hospital patients will contract an additional infection during their hospital stay, and will have to spend an extra 2.5 weeks in the hospital. This means a patient may have to recover from multiple infections at the same time - while racking up a serious bill.
For instance, a patient in plastic surgery recovery should not only prioritize getting the rest they need to heal, but also make sure they are protecting themselves from potential infections that could complicate their recovery.
The risk of hospital-acquired infections
A hospital-acquired infection is often the answer to the question: Why is my operation wound not healing? A serious infection may cause the scenario of a wound not healing if it cannot be treated effectively.
In serious cases, fatalities can even occur. The most at-risk patients for healthcare-acquired infections are already vulnerable patients such as patients in the IU. Age, weight, and pre-existing conditions are also significant factors that affect vulnerability.
Healthcare facilities are well aware of the threat that hospital-acquired infections pose to their patients, and take great care to limit and contain the transmission of diseases between patients in a hospital.
Given the stakes involved however, we believe patients should also shoulder responsibility for their own health while in hospital. How can you do this? By being forewarned and educating yourself.
Learning of and adhering to healthcare guidelines could potentially be life-saving. Your own conduct over simple, practical prevention methods such as regularly washing your hands can make a huge impact on whether or not you contract a hospital-acquired infection.
So first, let’s talk about some of the most common hospital-acquired infections. Then, we’ll give you our top tips for avoiding them.
The most common hospital-acquired infections
Symptoms of hospital-acquired infections usually start to show while a patient is still in hospital, but individuals should also be attentive to irregular symptoms occurring in the few days after being discharged.
Infections will vary in case to case, but the most common types of hospital-acquired infections are:
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Surgical site infections
Infections are characterized by the following symptoms:
- Cough or shortness of breath
- Discharge from a wound
- Difficulty urinating
Given the prevalence and threat of healthcare-acquired infections, the presence of any of these symptoms, however mild, should be cause for action. Talking to a doctor is very important, as early intervention is always the safest way to treat infections.
Who is most at risk from hospital-acquired infections?
Anyone admitted to a medical facility, for any reason, is at risk of contracting a hospital-acquired infection. Taking this into account, all patients and visitors should be vigilant to help reduce and prevent this problem.
Special care and attention should be taken towards the following groups of people, who are at extra risk for infection:
- People over 70
- Long-term users of antibiotics
- Patients who use a urinary catheter
- Patients undergoing a prolonged period in the ICU
- Patients in, or recovering from, a coma
- Patients in, or recovering from, shock
- Trauma patients
- Patients who have undergone damage to the immune system
What to do if you think you have contracted a hospital-acquired infection
Many doctors can diagnose infections by sight alone. Given the very visible nature of the most common symptoms of hospital-acquired infections, they can be identified quickly if you know to look for them.
Communication between you and your medical team is paramount, and you should always notify your medical team if you have experienced symptoms of an additional infection prior to, during, or after being admitted to a hospital.
Upon notifying the medical team about any infections, you will probably be asked to provide a urine and/or blood test to identify the type of infection you may be carrying. This diagnosis of the infection helps doctors and nurses to prescribe the right treatment.
Treatment of hospital-acquired infections
Treatment for hospital-acquired infections can vary depending on the type of infection that you have. In the majority of bacterial infections, the prescription will be antibiotics and plenty of rest.
A doctor may need to remove any foreign devices such as catheters as soon as it is medically appropriate to do so, so be prepared for this eventuality.
Good treatment of infections also comes from a healthy, nutritious diet. A strong, balanced diet gives your body the resources it needs to fight infection while you are resting. At this time, proteins, particularly collagen protein, will come in useful for helping your body heal.
So now you know what common infections are, what to look for, and how a doctor might treat them, but how do you prevent infection from occurring in the first place?
How to prevent hospital-acquired infections
Thankfully, there are many ways that patients and visitors can reduce the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections. We’ve compiled this handy list to keep in mind during your next hospital visit.
1. Listen to hospital staff
All hospital staff, from medical personnel to cleaners and administrators, have a duty of care to their patients. They are aware of the dangers of hospital-acquired infections and do what they can to reduce their impact.
It is in everyone’s interest that hospital stays are not extended by hospital-acquired infections. Hospital staff are experienced in health matters, and may ask you to follow rules that are initially confusing or difficult to follow.
Rules such as visitor times and hospital procedures may sound over the top and unnecessarily bureaucratic at times, but if you find yourself disagreeing with, or getting angry at, medical staff; consider that their requests are for the good of the patient and may well be preventing infections.
2. Isolate when necessary
The bacteria and viruses that cause infections can be very contagious. Infections can be transferred from person to person through simple actions such as coughs and sneezes, as well as by contact. For patients in critical condition, the safest course of action may be to isolate them from any other contact.
This can be incredibly difficult at a time when hugging, or holding the hand of a family member, would provide emotional support to the patient and the family. However, if doctors give guidance to not touch a patient in critical condition, following this request may save lives, and allow much more opportunity for family hugs after they make a recovery.
This can be particularly difficult if you are visiting a loved one, and don’t believe that you are carrying any contagious viruses or bacteria. It is important to understand that other human beings always present a risk for the transmission of bacteria - even if they are not suffering from infection themselves.
If you are visiting a loved one in the hospital, be especially mindful that you could be carrying potentially contagious viruses or bacteria. If medical personnel deem your loved one’s immune system to be too at risk, you may not be able to touch them, and it is best to heed the medical advice.
3. Wash your hands
A golden rule, and one that cannot be emphasized enough, is to wash your hands. This is especially important in the hospital. Bacteria that cause infections are invisible to the naked eye, and so we cannot see the potential dangers we present when we touch surfaces and other people.
The implementation of a system where staff and visitors regularly wash their hands drastically reduces the risk of hospital-acquired infections in cases with lower-risk patients.
Washing your hands on entry to a hospital is a must, but so too is washing your hands after touching any item that others may have touched before you. Door handles, especially in the bathroom, are often the worst-affected sites because everyone touches them.
Every time you wash your hands, you make the hospital a slightly safer place.
4. Try your best not to touch anything
Connected to hand-washing is the idea that when in the hospital, whether you’re a patient or a visitor, you should keep your hands to yourself.
Even in state-of-the-art facilities with efficient cleaning regimens, the safest course of action is to assume that touching anything in a hospital will transfer bacteria to your hands.
The reception desk, your phone, magazines, and surfaces all become at-risk zones. Of course complete avoidance of touching anything is impossible, but to help prevent hospital-acquired infections, you should touch as little as possible.
5. Practice good nutrition and hydration
As mentioned previously, good nutrition and hydration are closely linked to overall health. When a doctor prescribes rest to a patient, they are prescribing a lack of activity so that the body has the best chance to fight your infection without distraction.
Although physical movement is limited, this doesn’t mean that the body isn’t hard at work fighting off infections. To do this effectively, the body should be well-fed and stocked up on vital nutrition.
Protein is often the most important part of the diet when recovering in a hospital. Especially when recovering from a wound, protein is the resource that the body calls on to repair damaged areas of skin, muscles, organs, or blood vessels.
To be more specific, collagen is the protein most associated with recovery because collagen fibers are what your body uses to fill in wounds and heal.
6. Consider collagen supplementation
Continuing the theme of fueling your body with what it needs to fight back, there are a wide range of wound healing supplements that offer significant benefits to those who take them. Supplementation may be the best answer for you, or for a loved one in the hospital.
Of all the supplements available, collagen wound healing supplements lead the way. Look for a collagen supplement such as ProT Gold hydrolyzed collagen that is medical-grade and easily digestible.
ProT Gold collagen uses a formula that is trusted in thousands of medical facilities across the United States. This collagen supplement is safe for daily consumption, and is proven to be fully digestible in 15 minutes or less.
Collagen supplementation has been shown to reduce injury recovery times. A reduced amount of time hospitalized means there will be a shorter window where you are at risk of a hospital-acquired infection.
If you’re wondering whether you should take collagen powder vs pills, it really comes down to a personal choice. ProT Gold even offers liquid collagen protein in convenient single-serve packets!
With so many types of collagen products available, it’s easy to fit into your daily routine, and just a simple supplement may help prevent the risk of infection during your next hospital stay.