Antibiotic Resistant Germs in Hospitals:
Information for Patients and their Families
Patients and their loved ones can be active participants in staying healthy in a hospital by helping to prevent the spread of germs, including antibiotic-resistant germs, and knowing what healthcare personnel are doing to prevent spread of germs.
About Antibiotic Resistance
Remind healthcare personnel and visitors to clean their hands
Know when and why healthcare personnel wear gowns and gloves
Allow people to clean your room
Know why hospitals might request tests for a resistant germ, even if you don’t have symptoms
One of the biggest risks for getting an antibiotic-resistant infection is staying in a healthcare facility, such as a hospital. Patients in these facilities are commonly exposed to antibiotics and receive lots of hands on care. Additionally, most resistant germs are more common in hospitals than in the community. These are factors which can lead to spread of resistant germs.
Antibiotic resistance happens when germs (bacteria, fungi) develop the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are more difficult to treat. No one can completely avoid getting an infection, including an antibiotic-resistant infection, but some people are at greater risk than others (for example, people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems).
The fact that resistant germs might spread in a hospital where you or your loved one is being treated can be frightening. Healthcare personnel can prevent the spread of resistant germs by following recommended practices for identifying these germs, cleaning their hands, wearing gowns and gloves, and thoroughly cleaning patient care areas and medical equipment. You can also play a role in preventing spread.
Cleaning hands often prevents the spread of germs, including resistant germs. Healthcare personnel can protect patients by cleaning their hands often with either an alcohol based hand sanitizer or soap and water. Healthcare personnel should clean their hands every time they enter your room and when they remove their gloves.
Ask and remind healthcare personnel to clean their hands.
It is OK to ask questions like,
- “Before you start the exam, would you mind cleaning your hands again?” or
- “Can you clean your hands before changing my bandages?”
Your hands can spread germs, too, so protect yourself by cleaning your hands often and speak up for clean hands by reminding loved ones to do the same. This video explains how washing your hands can fight germs [3:00] that get on our hands every day.
In certain situations, healthcare personnel may wear gowns and gloves in order to prevent their hands and clothes from becoming contaminated. This helps prevent healthcare personnel from spreading germs from patient to patient.
The gown should be tied at the neck and back so it covers the healthcare worker’s front and shoulders.
For some hospitalized patients that have tested positive for certain resistant germs, hospital personnel should wear gloves and gowns every time they enter the patient’s room.
Environmental services workers are the people who clean patient rooms in the hospital, and they are important members of the healthcare team. Allowing them to clean and disinfect your room helps keep you safe by reducing your risk of developing an infection.
Germs can contaminate healthcare equipment, including bedrails and bedside tables. It is important to understand that environmental services workers may need to move some of your personal items and supplies in order to clean thoroughly.
People can carry resistant germs on their body without knowing it and these individuals can serve as a source for spread to others.
Testing patients for resistant germs, even if they don’t have symptoms, is called screening. Screening helps identify resistant germs early and helps prevent their spread. Screening is recommended for some resistant germs (like carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales [CRE]). It also can help healthcare personnel pick the best antibiotics if a patient that is carrying a resistant germ develops an infection. A hospital or health department may recommend screening of patients in a hospital unit in certain situations, such as when a patient on the unit is diagnosed with an infection caused by a resistant germ.
Patients benefit from the screening that hospitals conduct to look for resistant germs, especially when all patients participate in screening opportunities.
The screening test usually involves swabbing the nose, rectum, armpit, or groin, or a combination of body sites with a device that looks like a q-tip or sponge. The swab is sent to a laboratory to test for the resistant germ. Healthcare personnel will share the test results with the patient or family, and the hospital will take appropriate precautions to protect you and other patients depending on the results.
Individuals who have received healthcare outside of the United States can be at higher risk for carrying resistant germs.
Tell healthcare personnel when you are seeking medical care if you stayed overnight in a hospital or had an invasive medical procedure (such as surgery or an endoscopic procedure like cystoscopy or colonoscopy) in another country in the past 6 months.