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Avoiding infections at the hospital

February 05, 2007|Peter King | Newsday

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.7 million patients each year contract an infection while in a U.S. hospital, contributing to about 100,000 deaths a year.

Consumers Union ( and the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, or RID ( are among several consumer-advocate groups offering advice on how to lessen the risk.

"Ask all the caregivers to clean their hands before they treat you," says Betsy McCaughey, who founded RID two years ago.

Other ways to reduce your risk:

Ask that objects touched by staff, visitors or other patients be wiped with alcohol. If you are having an operation, ask hospital staffers not to shave the surgical site. If they must, ask them to use clippers and not a hand razor. Razors can open small cuts on the skin and create an easy route for germs to enter your body.

Tell your doctors to keep you warm during the operation. McCaughey says operating rooms are generally kept fairly cold, but she says research shows patients warmed with special blankets and hats are at a reduced risk of infection.

And request that only the doctors and nurses involved in your surgery be allowed in the operating room. McCaughey says hospitals often allow medical students and other nonessential personnel to enter as observers.

"Everyone in the room adds to your risk of infection," McCaughey says.

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