Your Role in Infection Prevention While In the Hospital

As a patient, you play a vital part in preventing infections during your hospital stay. Below are some of the most common types of hospital-acquired infections and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Hand Washing

Hands may look clean, but germs are always lurking. Because germsare typically passed from one person to another by touch, it’simportant to regularly wash your hands with soap and water or analcohol-based rub or sanitizer. It is especially important to do so:

  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • Before touching any dressings, stitches, catheters, etc.

All visitors should follow the same hand washing protocols. The same is true of any doctor, nurse, or other staff member. Never hesitate to ask anyone to wash or disinfect their hands before they visit or provide care.

To learn more about hand hygiene, click here.

Learn the proper steps for performing hand hygiene by clicking here.

Medical Device Associated Infections

After your surgery or procedure, you may need one or several medical devices, such as a Foley catheter, a central line, or a ventilator. The use of any of these devices increases your risk of developing an infection. However, there are several things to keep in mind to help prevent this from happening, which are explained below.

Urinary Catheter

A urinary catheter is a thin tube placed in the bladder to drain urine into a collection bag. To prevent germs from entering the catheter and traveling into the bladder, remember to:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before and after doing catheter care.
  • Always keep your urine bag below the level of your bladder.
  • Do not tug or pull on the catheter tubing.
  • Do not twist or kink the catheter tubing.
  • Ask your health care provider daily when it can be removed.

Central Line

A central line is a tube that is placed into a large vein, usually in the chest, neck, arm, or groin, to give fluids or medication. To prevent bacteria or germs from entering the central line and into the blood, remember to:

  • Ask your health care providers to explain why and how long you will need a central line.
  • Make sure all health care providers wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before and after performing central line care.
  • If the dressing comes off or becomes soiled, tell your nurse or doctor immediately.
  • Do not touch or let any visitors touch the tube.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer.
  • Remind visitors to wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before and after each visit.


A ventilator is used when a patient is unable to sufficiently breathe on his or her own. Ventilators can be life-saving, but they can also increase a patient’s risk of infection, such as pneumonia, by making it easier for germs to enter the lungs. To help prevent this from occurring, remember the following:

  • If you smoke, quit. Patients who smoke get more infections. If you know ahead of surgery that you will need to be on a ventilator, talk to your doctor about helpful treatments and resources for smoking cessation.
  • Advise family members to ask the nursing staff about raising the head of the bed (semi-recumbent position) and performing regular oral hygiene to prevent bacteria from traveling down the ventilator tube to the lungs.
  • Advise family members to ask the nurse or respiratory therapist when the patient will be allowed to try breathing on his or her own.
  • Advise family members to remind any health care provider to wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before touching the patient.

Surgical Site

Although infections at the surgical site are uncommon in the hospital, there are preventative measures to remember before and after the procedure.

Before surgery:

  • Do not shave the surgical area. Shaving can irritate the skin,making it more vulnerable for an infection.
  • Ask about taking antibiotic medication prior to surgery.

After surgery:

  • Speak up if someone tries to shave the area with a razor before surgery. Hair should only be removed if it will interfere with the procedure. If necessary, hair should be removed withclippers.
  • Remind all health care providers to wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before touching the surgical site.
  • Remind visitors to wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub or sanitizer before and after each visit. Visitors should also avoid touching the surgical site or dressing.

Antibiotic Stewardship

If you do develop a bacterial infection, your health care provider may treat you with antibiotics. It is important to take the antibiotics exactly as directed in order to avoid complications or recurrent infection.

If you develop a viral infection, your provider will not prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are typically not used to treat viruses. Discuss other treatment options with your health care provider.

Infection Prevention

Hospital-acquired infections are infections that develop during the course of a patient's hospitalization. They may develop because the patient’s medical condition makes them susceptible to infections; because they had a surgical procedure; because they have a catheter in their urinary tract, nose, mouth or blood vessels; or because they have aspirated (inhaled) material from the nose or mouth into the lungs. Some of these infections can be prevented by utilizing best practices.

Learn more about what Cooper is doing to keep patients safe by clicking here.