While we like to think of hospitals as clean places where germs are not allowed to thrive, the reality is that no matter how sanitary a hospital may appear, it is always possible to pick up an infection while undergoing medical treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 3% of hospital patients may contract a hospital-acquired infection each day. Such infections can lead to increased hospital time, prolonged recovery time, and in some cases, time spent in the intensive care unit. For very young, elderly, or otherwise compromised patients, an additional infection could even risk death. If you find yourself in the hospital, watch for these areas where germs can lurk, and take precautions to protect yourself and your visitors.
One of the most common ways bacteria are transmitted from one person to another is through touch. The gloves that healthcare professionals wear when working with patients protect the worker from germs, not the patient. It is reasonable to ask that your doctors, nurses, and healthcare aids wash their hands before pulling on their gloves, as anything that was on their hands before they touched the gloves has now been transmitted to the outside of them. Don’t be afraid to remind your medical team and your hospital visitors to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water upon entering your room.
The American Journal of Infection Control has published a study reporting hospital floors can be contaminated with pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and Clostridium difficile. Since Clostridium difficile is not killed by alcohol-based hand sanitizers, make sure your nurse or hospital visitors wash their hands with soap and water after picking up any items from the floor. Wipe down dropped items such as cell phones, and do not place items such as your purse or overnight bag on the floor. If the hospital provides you with non-slip socks to wear during your hospital stay, be sure to ask for a clean pair each day.
12. Wheelchair Wheels
Since hospital floors can be a breeding ground for germs, be wary of any objects that come into contact with them, such as the wheels on the wheelchair used to transport you from one area of the hospital to another. Wash your hands with soap and water after a ride in the hospital wheelchair, or if this is not possible, use hand sanitizer.
11. TV Remote/Call Button
Items that have been handled by others, such as the television remote/nurse call button on your hospital bed, may harbor germs. A study at the University of Arizona found hospital remotes to be the most bacteria-ridden items in patients’ rooms. Although some hospitals have begun using sealed television remotes to prevent the spread of germs, not all do. Pack some bleach-containing wipes in your overnight bag to wipe down the remote before using it.
10. Bed Rails
The rails on your hospital bed may not be as clean as you might hope. According to the National Institutes of Health, disease-causing bacteria can survive on hard surfaces for months. Since bed rails are high-touch items manipulated by both patients and healthcare personnel alike, you may want to wipe them down with disinfectant wipes containing bleach.Related: 15 Items That Are Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat
The bedside telephone in your hospital room is another object that may harbor bacteria. These phones are handled often by patients, visitors, and healthcare workers. To avoid the risk of catching a bug, consider wiping down the telephone with a disinfectant wipe before using it and keep germs at bay.
Door handles are notorious places for germs to hide, given the number of times they are touched by people entering and exiting a room. While some companies are working on hospital door handles that sanitize your hands as you use them, until such handles become commonplace you will want to wash your hands after entering or exiting a room and ask your guests to do so as well. To properly wash hands, be sure to lather your palms, the backs of your hands, between each finger, and under the fingernails. Spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing your hands before rinsing well under running water.
7. Elevator Buttons
There’s no way around it: if you want to take an elevator you are going to have to push a button. Elevators are in constant use by doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors. Any germs on the hands of the hospital population that have been picked up from other places in the hospital can be transferred to the elevator buttons. You may want to carry clean tissues for pressing elevator buttons and dispose of the tissue after use. Frequent hand washing is the best defense against MRSA and other pathogens that can lurk on these buttons.Related: Beware of These Germy Surfaces in Public Restrooms
6. The Air
Another way that pathogens are transmitted from one person to another is through the air. You may want to bring a face mask along to the hospital, especially if you might find yourself with a hacking, coughing roommate. While some masks only filter out allergens such as pollen or dust mites, you will want a germ-filtering mask that is able to keep microscopic bacteria and viral agents out of your airways.
5. IV Pole
The very IV pole that helps deliver life-saving medicines and fluids can be harboring dangerous bacteria. Since the metal IV pole is another highly touched, hard surface item handled by both healthcare personnel and patients, it is another place that can harbor disease-causing bacteria such as MRSA and VRE. The very best defense against these bacteria is frequent hand washing and insisting that your caregivers wash their hands before touching you.
4. Privacy Curtain
The privacy curtain that surrounds your hospital bed is an innocent-looking item that can harbor a surprising number of germs. These curtains are pulled back and forth as doctors and nurses seek to give patients some semblance of privacy for exams, treatments, and procedures in the hospital room. They can be pulled by visitors in shared rooms trying to give a roommate some sense of personal space, or they can be pulled shut for solitude and rest. The more these items are touched, the more the risk of contamination. Hand washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent transferring germs from the privacy curtain to you or your visitors.
3. Bedside Tray
The rolling cart that swivels over your bed to hold your meal tray can hold more than just your water cup and dinner plate. Since this is another item that is handled by many people, from healthcare workers to patients, it is also an object that may be home to illness-causing bacteria or viruses. Don’t be afraid to wipe down the cart with a disinfecting wipe and ask others to wash their hands before handling it.
2. Faucet Handles
We all know that germs reside in bathrooms, but any sink faucet can harbor germs, regardless of whether or not it is located in a restroom. Since faucet handles are hard surfaces touched by many different people, they are another place where germs can be transferred. To make the most of your hospital visit and ensure you don’t have any additional healthcare issues, use a paper towel to turn the faucet handle off after washing your hands or using the water.
1. Armrests on Furniture
Chairs and other pieces of furniture are items that might not get a good disinfecting all that often. Given the number and variety of people that may use hospital furniture, it might be a good idea to give them a quick wipe with disinfectant to prevent the transfer of bacteria such as MRSA or VRE.Related: Top Tips for Protecting Your Hands