Preventing infections when visiting someone in the hospital
Infections are illnesses that are caused by germs such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Patients in the hospital are already ill. Exposing them to these germs may make it harder for them to recover and go home.
If you are visiting a friend or loved one, you need to take steps to prevent spreading germs.
The best way to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands often, stay home if you are sick, and to keep your vaccines up to date.
Hand Washing and Alcohol-based Hand Cleaners
Clean your hands:
Remind family, friends, and health care providers to wash their hands before entering a patient's room.
To wash your hands:
You may also use alcohol-based hand cleaners (sanitizers) if your hands are not visibly soiled.
Stay Home If You are Sick
Staff and visitors should stay home if they feel sick or have a fever. This helps protect everyone in the hospital.
If you think you were exposed to chickenpox, the flu, or any other infections, stay home.
Remember, what may seem like just a little cold to you can be a big problem for someone who is sick and in the hospital. If you are not sure if it is safe to visit, call your provider and ask them about your symptoms before you visit the hospital.
Anybody who visits a hospital patient who has an isolation sign outside their door should stop at the nurses' station before entering the patient's room.
Isolation precautions create barriers that help prevent the spread of germs in the hospital. They are needed to protect you and the patient you are visiting. The precautions are also needed to protect other patients in the hospital.
When a patient is in isolation, visitors may:
Other Things You Can Do to Prevent Infections
Hospital patients who are very old, very young, or very ill are at the greatest risk for harm from infections such as colds and the flu. To prevent getting the flu and passing it to others, get a flu vaccine each year. (Ask your doctor what other vaccines you need.)
When you visit a patient in the hospital, keep your hands away from your face. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crease of your elbow, not into the air.
Calfee DP. Prevention and control of health care-associated infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 266.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Infection control. www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/index.html. Updated March 25, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2019.
Review Date: 9/29/2019
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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