By: James C. Lewis, HSCLA AttorneyIt may come as a surprise but 2 million patients residing in hospitals get hospital-acquired infections every year. Infection stalls recovery, sometimes requiring weeks of intravenous antibiotics or a grueling round of surgeries to remove the infected tissue. Approximately 90,000 Americans who acquire these infections actually die as a result.Nationwide, hospital infections are the eighth leading cause of death. A growing number of hospitals are working harder to stop infections, but as bugs become resistant to antibiotics, it’s an uphill struggle.Generally speaking, there is little debate about what it takes to check the spread of infection in hospitals from giving patients antibiotics before surgery to avoiding overuse of catheters and intravenous lines. But hospitals are busy places, and the foe is invisible. Research suggests that more than half the time, health care workers even fail to wash their hands as recommended—a critical bulwark against infection identified 160 years ago.One outcome of this national crisis is that more hospitals are working harder to stop deadly infections. In early 2005, for example, the non-profit Institute for Health Care Improvement enlisted 3,000 hospitals to practice interventions proven to save lives. This same group has renewed this intervention program within the last several months. One approach targeted ventilator-assisted pneumonia (VAP), a deadly infection that strikes about 15% of the patients who have a breathing tube inserted. Hospital workers wash their hands frequently, closely monitored incision sites and raised patient beds to at least 30 degrees to prevent stomach fluids from backing up into the lungs—measures that enabled more than 30 hospitals to report no VAPs for at least a year.There are several fundamental ways that you can avoid getting infected. They include the following:?Wash your hands frequently and don’t be shy about reminding doctors, nurses, and aides to wash theirs;?People who smoke or are overweight are more susceptible to infection, so try to quit and lose weight before surgery;?Wash with 4% Chlorhexidine antibiotic soap for several days before surgery;?Ask your doctor for a nasal swab test for MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphlycoccus-aereus);?Be sure the doctor prescribes an antibiotic for you before surgery;?Don’t allow the doctors to shave the surgical site if at possible, as tiny cuts from the razor can get infected—use hair clippers instead;?Ask friends and family to stay away if they are ill, and ask the doctor to limit the number of aides and medical students in your room;?Call a nurse promptly if IVs or catheters become loose or damaged; the sites should be kept clean and dry;?Finally, if you can’t speak for yourself because of your medical condition, be sure to have a family member or friend advocate for you.