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Infection protection: How to stay healthy in the hospital

The hospital is the place where you go to get better, but you could end up with a new illness — from infection.
/ Source: TODAY

The hospital is the place where you go to get better, but you could end up with a new illness — from infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were 722,000 healthcare-associated infections in acute care hospitals in 2011, and that about 75,000 patients with such infections died during their hospital stays.

TODAY contributor Dr. Roshini Raj stopped by the show Monday with her top tips for avoiding infections and staying healthy in the hospital.

“Hospital infections are extremely serious and they’re unfortunately quite common in the sense that one in 25 hospitalized patients will develop an infection in the hospital and they’re preventable,” said Raj, an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

Hand Hygiene

Hand sanitizer should be available for staff, but you may want to bring some for yourself and your visitors.

“One of the major things you need to focus on if you’re in the hospital is hand hygiene — not only your own hands, but the hands of your caregivers — the doctors, the nurses, the staff that’s surrounding you every day,” Raj said.

Remember, many other patients have touched those same surfaces you may be touching when you’re going for a test, and some of those areas could have nasty germs, she said.

“You want to wash your hands carefully, you want to keep the alcohol-based hand sanitizer ready at all times and you also want to encourage those who visit you, and especially the staff, to make sure they’ve washed their hands as well,” Raj said.

Even though hospitals are cleaned regularly, germs still lurk and can cause serious infections.

“Unfortunately, many of the germs that you’ll find in the hospital are deadlier, they’re more resistant to antibiotics because they’ve been exposed to so many antibiotics in the hospital,” Raj said. “These are not the infections that you want to get.

“You may go in for one thing and wind up with something very different,” she said.

Don’t feel that you cannot ask caregivers and visitors to clean their hands.

“Sometimes people are a little bit shy about questioning the doctor or the nurse,” she said.

At her hospital, she said, workers wear pins that say, “Ask me if I’ve washed my hands.”

“We really want to encourage our patients to realize, this is your right and you do not want to be infected,” Raj said.

Track Tests and Medications

To avoid a medication mix-up, don't be afraid to speak up.

“You want to always ask, ‘What is this medicine I’m getting? What is the dose? Why am I getting it today?’, says Raj.

And if you can’t do it yourself, it’s great to have someone there looking out for you.

“It’s so important,” Raj said. “Many of us who’ve had loved ones in the hospital realize that when we’re with them, we ask those important questions.

“When you’re the sick person in the hospital, you’re distracted, you’re not feeling well, you’re not sleeping well,” she said. “It’s really great to have an advocate there by your side to ask those important questions and keep track of all those tests and medications.”

Second Opinions

Just because you’re a hospital patient doesn’t mean you can’t seek a second opinion, something many people don’t realize.

“If someone is recommending surgery and you’re not quite sure that it’s the right decision, say ‘I’d like to speak to another surgeon who’s on staff today in the hospital,’ and usually you will get that done,” she said.

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.