Special to The Dallas Examiner
In health care settings, infections have always been a problem for patients and medical providers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on any given day, one in every 25 hospital patients is treated for a healthcare-associated infection – an infection acquired in a health care facility while receiving medical care.
During International Infection Prevention Week, infection prevention specialists at Parkland Health and Hospital System want to spread the word: Everyone has an important role to play in keeping patients safe from infection.
The international awareness week takes place every year during the third week of October to raise awareness of the critical role infection prevention plays in improving patient safety. This year it began Oct. 14.
“Whether in a health care facility or out in the community, there are things everyone can do to stay safe,” said Pranavi Sreeramoju, M.D., chief of infection prevention at Parkland and associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Patients can help prevent infections by being informed and by following a few tips and strategies.”
Tip 1: The easiest way to prevent infections is by practicing thorough hand hygiene. “Something as simple as washing your hands can save lives,” said Karla Voy-Hatter, RN, director of infection prevention at Parkland.
“We encourage patients to watch their health care team and visitors to make sure they sanitize their hands before contact, every time. If someone forgets to sanitize their hands, it’s fine to politely request that hand hygiene guidelines be followed.”
Tip 2: Communication is vital in all health care settings and it’s encouraged at Parkland.
“We want patients to know it is OK to speak up. We want them to feel comfortable when speaking to their providers about their care,” Sreeramoju emphasized.
“Patients are also encouraged to ask what they can do before and after procedures to reduce their infection risks.”
Tip 3: Know how to recognize a possible infection.
“By asking questions about their illness and plan of care, patients can become more vigilant,” Voy-Hatter said. “Knowing how to recognize when something isn’t quite right is very helpful. A few signs and symptoms of infection include redness, pain and fever.”
Tip 4: Get smart about antibiotics.
“Antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections,” Sreeramoju explained. “Patients shouldn’t expect to receive them for every illness.”
“Proper antibiotic use ensures they work to protect patients from life-threatening infections or sepsis when they are supposed to,” Voy-Hatter added.
Tip 5: Get vaccinated.
“Vaccination is the most important measure we have to prevent infection,” Voy-Hatter said. “Remember to get your annual flu vaccine and other vaccines as recommended by your health care provider in an effort to prevent illness and avoid complications associated with vaccine-preventable illnesses.”
Voy-Hatter said the following steps also help reduce the risk of catching viral infections:
• Clean your hands often using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing to help keep from spreading germs
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
• Stay home when you are sick to avoid passing the virus to others
Deborah “Dee” Couger, project management coordinator for infection prevention, has worked at Parkland for the last 20 years and is also a Parkland patient.
“I’ve had two knee surgeries at Parkland,” she said. “Working here helped me understand the importance of ‘doing your part’ when it comes to infection prevention.”
Couger said patients should take an active part in their health care experience.
“During my hospital stays, I took these five tips to heart. I’d encourage others to do the same,” she added. “I was especially vigilant about hand hygiene. I always sanitized my hands before and after touching my incisions and upon entering or leaving my room. My providers did the same, and I was never shy to speak up if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.”
Sreeramoju said teamwork is vital to ensure positive health care outcomes.
“As providers, we want patients to be partners in their care.”