As we discussed last week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer recently reported a 1,000% rise in Healthcare-Associated MRSA in Canada. And earlier in the year, researchers at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital told us that 1 in 12 adults in Canadian hospitals are either colonized or infected with MRSA, VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci) , or C. difficile (Clostridium difficile) . MRSA was the major offender because 67% of the patients who tested positive were positive for it.
Infectious disease experts agree that the single most important thing healthcare workers can do to prevent the transmission of MRSA and other pathogens is to wash their hands before and after seeing patients. The problem, however, as we reported last month, is that healthcare workers aren’t doing that, with doctors being the biggest offenders with compliance somewhere between 0 and 50%.
So if healthcare workers won’t do what they should, then it falls on the patient to do what they can to protect themselves. A number of experts recently offered the following suggestions:
1. Know What to Look For
In general, fevers, if they’re accompanied by shaking chills, if they’re getting worse instead of better, that would suggest there’s a bacterial process. With community-acquired MRSA, many people first notice a skin infection or boil that becomes larger and more painful. But if you do suspect such an infection, don’t rush to the emergency room, where you might be exposed to other bugs or infect others. Call your primary-care doctor first for advice.
2. Get a Flu Shot
When people get influenza, they actually become at higher risk as they recover for complicating bacterial infections. This is because people with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to other bugs.
3. Ask Whether You Need that Antibiotic
Don’t assume you need one — antibiotics don’t work on viral infections like colds or the flu. If your doctor does recommend one, ask whether you really need it. Using antibiotics does kill off non-resistant bacteria in your body and makes you likely to acquire antibiotic-resistant bacteria – like MRSA – in their place.
4. Ask Your Doctors to Wash Their Hands
It is every patient’s right to have every health-care provider entering the room to have clean hands. They’re supposed to do it, they are mandated for 100 percent hand- hygiene compliance, but the reality is it doesn’t happen. And that’s where the burden falls on the patient to make sure they do.
5. Advocate for Loved Ones in the Hospital
One of the ways drug-resistant bacteria spreads in hospital is through tubes inserted in the body, such as catheters. If someone you care about is on such a device, don’t be afraid to ask doctors whether they still need it, and when the tubes can come out. Every day that decision needs to be made: Do these things need to stay in or do they need to come out? The key, is empowering patients or their advocates to stand up for their health-care needs.