Both science and logic suggest that if you are sick, going to the hospital will make you feel better, not worse. However, studies show that 5% of all hospital patients acquire some kind of infection during their visit. What’s more, these 5% of patients are much more likely to end up back in the hospital sometime during the following year.
Hospitals are home to all sorts of germs (viruses and bacteria), but the main source of contamination is the patient himself. This in itself is not surprising. A patient who is ill will obviously have a weak immune system and therefore be more susceptible to germs. Aside from the germs borne by the patient, microbes can come four other main vectors of transmission: other patients, staff, visitors and the environment. Fortunately, infections from the environment (water, air, dust) tend to be rare, and the spread of germs between patients and contamination by staff can be largely avoided through hand disinfection.
Take the situation in hand!
It’s no secret that cleaning is the key to proper hygiene in hospitals. Although hospital rooms are thoroughly cleaned between patients, if you or a family member has to stay in the hospital for a few days, you can ask that commonly touched areas (such as door handles and bathroom) be disinfected. Though most people routinely wash their hands before touching a sick patient, they do not always think to do so before touching their bed railing, bedside table or the light switch in their room – even though these items are usually crawling with germs. Then there are all those other objects that are touched or shared by several people: bathroom faucets, remote controls, elevator buttons, handrails along walls and in stairwells, meal trays, touch screen monitors, telephones, etc. Whenever possible, use a handkerchief when handling these items to prevent infection.
That said, washing one’s hands remains the simplest, cheapest and most effective way of reducing the spread of infections. Antiseptic gel dispensers can usually be found throughout hospitals and in each room. Remember that most germs are spread by hand: Infected people touch their mouth or nose, and then touch other people or objects around them. Something as simple as hand washing can really make a difference.