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Infection Prevention


Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are largely preventable, but persist as a major concern for patients and health care providers. More than 1.7 million Americans contract healthcare-associated HAIs each year, slowing recovery times and lengthening hospital stays. Of them 99,000 people will die, due at least in part, to the HAI.

Such infections can result from bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The most common infections are bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections, followed by surgical site infections (SSIs). SSIs generally appear within 30 days of surgery, or within one year for implanted devices. Treatment for infections usually requires line or catheter removal, antibiotic treatment, and sometimes surgical intervention. Often antibiotics will prove effective, although many bacterial strains are becoming resistant to them, such as the virulent strain of Staph known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Basic cleanliness practices have proven quite successful at reducing the incidence of infections, from hand washing to making sure bandages are clean and dry. With this emphasis, some improvements have been made in preventing infections in healthy, younger people in hospital settings. Older people, however, still suffer frequently from blood infections and infections from urinary catheters after surgery.


Find a surgeon that you trust, even if it takes time. Make sure that he/she is board-certified, and has enough experience to make you feel comfortable. Seek opinions from multiple surgeons, and weigh the benefits and risks of the procedure, especially if it is elective surgery. Even after selecting a surgeon, ask plenty of questions (visit AHRQ Question Builder for help creating a list) to be sure that you understand the procedure, and what you need to do before and after surgery to prevent infection and speed recovery. Consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointments.

Quit smoking. Among other health problems, smoking increases the odds for infection after surgery. At worst, try to stop 2 weeks before your procedure.

Ask your doctor when you should stop eating or drinking before surgery. Anesthesia can cause vomiting, which can lead to pneumonia, an infection in the lungs.

Prioritize hygiene. Ask your surgeon and nurses if they have washed and sanitized their hands. After surgery, wash your own hands frequently. Tell friends and family to wash their hands before they enter your room, and ask them to stay home if they are feeling sick.

Pay attention to any signs of infection: Fever, chills, weakness, increased pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, or wound discharge. Seek medical attention immediately if you have any of these symptoms.



Trusted Sources of Information

American College of Surgeons    

Information on how to choose a surgeon.


Information about preparing for surgery.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality   

Information about health care-associated infections, and how to reduce your risk.

Women to Women   

Information specific to women about preparing for surgery.


Detailed information about health care-associated infections.