It’s every patient’s nightmare. You go into the hospital to treat one problem… only to catch something even worse, while you are recovering!

It’s easy to dismiss healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) as just a function of other people’s paranoia. After all, hospitals are supposed to be the best places to recover from a serious illness or injury. Surely, people are exaggerating about the dangers of staying in the hospital!

Unfortunately, HAIs are not as rare as they should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HAIs impact 5-10% of hospital visitors every single year. In addition, according to the same report, around 100,000 people die every year from hospital contracted HAIs.

Since HAIs impact older adults disproportionately (the older you get the more likely you are to be impacted by an HAI), we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect ourselves.

So, today, I want to share the results of a new study that recommends a surprisingly simple approach to reducing the risk of acquiring non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia (NV-HAP), one of the more deadly HAIs. Then, as a bonus, I’ll mention one other tried-and-true way to fight back against HAIs.

Your Toothbrush Could Save Your Life

Most of us have heard about the importance of washing our hands frequently when we visit the hospital. But, far fewer of us have been exposed to the importance of brushing our teeth.

This is a shame, because, according to a recent study, brushing your teeth regularly in the hospital could significantly reduce your risk of acquiring hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Specifically, the study, which was published in the American Journal of Infection Control, reported the results of a pilot program in which patients were asked to brush their teeth four times a day.

The oral care pilot, which ran at Baker’s hospital, Sutter Medical Center, in Sacramento, California, resulted in 70% fewer cases of non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia during the trial period.

While this result still needs to be replicated, it offers one more powerful (albeit simple) tool for hospital patients. I, for one, will be brushing my teeth four times a day the next time I have to stay in the hospital. Will you?

Senior woman brushing teeth

Another Everyday Item that Could Save Your Life

While we are on the topic of hospital health, I feel a need to remind everyone about the importance of washing your hands at the hospital.

According to the CDC, hospital patients should wash their hands throughout the day. In addition, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in addition to soap.

The following graphic shows a few of the times that the CDC recommends washing your hands while at the hospital.

hand hygiene

(Image source: CDC website)

Washing our hands and brushing our teeth are such simple actions that it is easy to forget them when we are at the hospital. In reality, not only should we remember them, but, we should increase their frequency when we are in the healthcare system.

What do you do to prevent yourself from getting a healthcare-associated infection when you visit the hospital? Do you increase the frequency of your teeth-brushing? Do you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer? Something else? Let’s have a conversation about this important topic!

Let's Have a Conversation!