The Key to Protecting Yourself from Infection as a Patient

After reading my first two posts, someone asked what they could do to minimize their risk of getting an infection if they are hospitalized. The answer somewhat depends on the cause of the hospitalization, but there is one general principle that applies regardless of the purpose of the hospitalization.

The most important thing that can be done is to ensure that your caregivers are washing their hands. Ask them before they have any contact with you. This isn’t an offensive question, it’s for your own safety.

You may also see them using alcohol hand sanitizers. In most cases, that is actually preferable because it is more effective at killing microorganisms and has longer persistence than soap and water. In addition, there is some thinking that the antibacterial agent in most soaps (triclosan) may be a contributing factor that drives antibiotic resistance.

Either way, be sure that you ask. We need to create a culture where that is not only tolerated, but accepted practice. If a health care provider is offended by that, I would argue that they are in the wrong profession. If the whole point of medicine is to “first, do no harm,” this simple measure should be part of the norm. Would you expect anything different?

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