People enter hospitals to get well, but sometimes, they develop hospital-acquired infections that make them sicker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, approximately two million hospitalized patients come down with illnesses that result from medical treatment, and 100,000 die. These infections lengthen hospital stays and contribute $5 billion to annual health care costs.

Serving significant numbers of people who are sick or who have weakened immune systems makes hospitals breeding grounds for illnesses not seen in the general population. Surgical procedures and medical devices such as catheters and ventilators provide easy entry to the body for serious, often deadly infections like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) and sepsis. The problem is exacerbated by busy health care personnel running from one hospital room to another who may not take the time between patients to adequately disinfect their hands and examination tools such as stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs.

If you must be hospitalized, you can reduce your risk of developing a hospital-acquired infection by asking that hospital staff clean their hands before treating you and that your visitors clean their hands, too. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about other medical problems you have, such as allergies and diabetes, as these can affect your surgery and treatment.

Check the CDC website for additional tips for reducing your risk for hospital-acquired infections.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]