How Can Patients and Family Members Prevent Infections?
Healthcare-associated infections require multiple approaches for prevention. However, everyone can reduce the risk of getting a healthcare-associated infection, and reduce the risk of infecting others, by taking the following steps:
- Keep hands clean.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Learn the specific times when you should only use soap and water.
- Make sure that healthcare providers clean their hands too. Doctors, nurses, dentists, and other people who care for you come into contact with lots of bacteria and viruses. So before they treat you, politely ask them if they have cleaned their hands.
- Don’t be afraid to ask care providers if they should wear gloves, especially if they will be performing tasks such as taking blood or touching wounds or other body openings.
- Remind your visitors to clean their hands before and after their visit and throughout their visit, if they touch their nose/mouth or use the bathroom.
- Understand your care (or your loved ones' care).
- Ask your healthcare provider to explain the condition or procedure carefully, as well as any possible complications.
- Ask your healthcare provider what specific steps he/she takes to prevent infections as well as what you can do to prevent infections before, during, and after your visit.
- Be a good visitor.
- This includes staying home if you are sick, following special precautions if necessary (such as wearing a mask or other protective clothing), checking first before bringing food, flowers, or young visitors, and sneezing and coughing into your elbow, not your hand.
- Do not share personal items.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, blood glucose monitors, etc. with others.
- Protect your skin.
- It is important to take good care of your skin because it’s the body’s first line of defense against infection.
- If you have wounds or cuts, make sure the bandages are changed regularly, and follow your healthcare provider's instructions on proper care of the wound.
- If you have a drain or catheter (a tube that can be inserted into a body cavity, duct, or vessel):
- Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider to explain why you need the catheter or drain and what you should do to avoid infection.
- Follow instructions for the care of the catheter or drain to keep it working as it should and to keep it clean and free of germs.
- Check the catheter or drain often. If the bandage becomes wet or dirty, or the catheter or drain falls out, tell your healthcare provider.
- Work with your healthcare provider to make sure that the catheter or drain is removed as soon as it is no longer medically needed.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to do the same.
- When you sneeze or cough, the germs can travel 3 feet or more!
- Use a tissue and perform hand hygiene every time after coughing or sneezing.
- No tissue? Cover your mouth and nose with the bend of your elbow. If you use your hands, clean them right away.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible. Many germs that cause respiratory or gastrointestinal illness spread that way.
- If you are sick, avoid close contact with others.
- Stay home. Generally, people should stay home from work or school until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen).
- Don't shake hands or touch others. Increase the number of times you perform hand hygiene.
- When you visit a healthcare provider, call ahead and let them know you are ill. Healthcare providers might ask you to take extra precautions (such as wearing a mask) before entering the facility and while you are in the waiting room to further protect yourself and others.
- Get shots to avoid disease and prevent the spread of infection.
Help prevent antibiotic resistance.
- Know which shots are taken every year (like the flu shot) and which provide long-term immunity.
- Make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccinations by checking with your healthcare provider.
For more information on patient prevention and patient safety, visit the CDC HAI Patient Safety Page.