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Infection Prevention

If you or a loved one is entering the hospital for surgery or another medical procedure, there are some important things you need to know to prevent infections.

Why is infection prevention important for patients in hospitals?


  •  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 25 people in the U.S. get healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in hospitals each year. Unfortunately, nearly 75,000 people in hospitals die annually from these infections.
  • Pneumonia, central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI),  surgical site infections (SSI), catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI), and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) are common HAIs that can occur in hospital settings.
  • These infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Sometimes these infections can involved antibiotic-resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE).
  • HAIs cause more illness to the patient, prolong hospital stay, and increase healthcare costs.


How do we prevent infections?

  • Identifying risks for infection
  • Teaching proper hand-hygiene practices
  • Recommending ways to prevent infection
  • Consulting when isolation precautions are needed

How do we prevent infections in the hospital?

  • All hospital staff follow standard precautions when caring for patients. This means that all health care workers wash their hands (or use alcohol-based hand wash) and may wear gloves, gowns or eyewear. This protects you from infections and staff from exposure to blood or body fluids.
  • Some illnesses require additional precautions. If needed, an isolation sign will be placed outside your room. It does not list your illness, but tells staff and visitors about additional precautions that can help prevent the spread of disease, such as the use of gowns, gloves, and masks in specific instances.


  • Ask you to stay in your room.
  • Ask everyone who comes into your room to wear a gown and gloves and maybe a mask.
  • Ask you to wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand wash and wear a cover gown before leaving the room.

What can you do to help us prevent infections in the hospital?

  • Wash your hands or use alcohol based hand wash frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Remind people caring for you to clean their hands before caring for you. This is especially important if they are handling a dressing or touching an incision. Cleaning hands is still important even if they will be putting on gloves. 
  • If you have a urinary catheter, do not pull or twist the catheter tubing.
  • If you go home with a catheter, wash your hands before and after touching it.
  •  Brush your teeth at least twice a day, be as active as allowed, and perform breathing exercises, if instructed by your healthcare provider. This helps prevent pneumonia. 
  • If you have an intravenous catheter, avoid touching it and don’t get it wet. Notify your nurse or doctor if the bandage becomes wet, dirty, or comes off. 
  • Prior to surgery or another procedure, discuss other health problems that you have with your doctor.
  • If you have diabetes, it is especially important to follow your diabetic diet carefully in the weeks before surgery.
  • Stop smoking, at least until after you have recovered from surgery.
  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue or into your elbow, not your hand.
  • If your room looks dirty, ask to have it cleaned.
  • Tell relatives and friends not to visit you if they have a cold or feel sick.  

What can family members or other visitors do to help prevent infections in the hospital:

  • Do not visit if you have a cold or feel sick
  • Limited visitors to two people at a time and avoid bringing babies to visit.
  • Clean their hands before and after visiting you.
  • Don’t touch any surgical wounds or dressings.
  • Observe that healthcare professional cleans their hands before touching the patient. It’s ok to ask them to clean their hands if you haven’t seen them do so.

How can I help prevent infections outside of the hospital?

  • Always wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom whether you are at home or out.
  • Keep all of your immunizations up to date.
    • Get a flu shot every year.
    • Ask your doctor if you need the pneumococcal vaccination to prevent a specific kind of pneumonia.
  • Don’t take antibiotics if you don’t need them. Antibiotics only cure infections caused by bacteria, not viruses.
    • If your healthcare provider has prescribed you antibiotics, be sure to ask the following questions: 
      • “Do I really need an antibiotic?”
      • “Can I get better without this antibiotic?”
      • “What side effects or drug interactions can I expect?”
      • “What side effects should I report to you?”
      •  “How do you know what kind of infection I have? I understand that antibiotics won’t work for viral infections.”
  • Clean cutting surfaces and knives after working with raw meat/poultry.
  • Don’t share personal care items (razors, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, towels, etc.)
  • Don’t use others’ plates or drinking glasses.

What is Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital doing to prevent infections?

Our Infection Prevention team works with the people taking care of you to decrease your risk of getting an infection while in the hospital, from physicians and nurses to housekeepers, food service, and maintenance workers.  We teach them the most effective ways to prevent infection and that everyone in the hospital plays an important role in protecting the health of our patients. You can help prevent infections in the hospital because you’re part of this team as well. If you would like to talk to a member of our Infection Prevention team, please ask your nurse to contact us.

 What is a Surgical Site Infection (SSI)?
A surgical site infection is an infection that occurs after surgery in the part of the body where the surgery took place. Most patients who have surgery do not develop an infection. However, infections develop in about 1 to 3 out of every 100 patients who have surgery.


Some of the common symptoms of a surgical site infection are:


  • Redness and pain around the area where you had surgery
  • Drainage of cloudy fluid from your surgical wound 
  • Fever

Can SSIs be treated?
Yes. Most surgical site infections can be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic given to you depends on the bacteria (germs) causing the infection. Sometimes patients with SSIs also need another surgery to treat the infection.
What are some of the things that hospitals are doing to prevent SSIs?


To prevent SSIs, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers:


  • Clean their hands and arms up to their elbows with an antiseptic agent just before the surgery.
  • Clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for each patient.
  • May remove some of your hair immediately before your surgery using electric clippers if the hair is in the same area where the pro¬cedure will occur. They should not shave you with a razor.
  • Wear special hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves during surgery to keep the surgery area clean.
  • Give you antibiotics before your surgery starts. In most cases, you should get antibiotics within 60 minutes before the surgery starts and the antibiotics should be stopped within 24 hours after surgery.
  • Clean the skin at the site of your surgery with a special soap that kills germs.

What can I do to help prevent SSIs?
Before your surgery:

  • Tell your doctor about other medical problems you may have. Health problems such as allergies, diabetes, and obesity could affect your surgery and your treatment.
  • Quit smoking. Patients who smoke get more infections. Talk to your doctor about how you can quit before your surgery.
  • Do not shave near where you will have surgery. Shaving with a razor can irritate your skin and make it easier to develop an infection.

At the time of your surgery:

  • Speak up if someone tries to shave you with a razor before surgery. Ask why you need to be shaved and talk with your surgeon if you have any concerns.
  • Ask if you will get antibiotics before surgery.

After your surgery:

  • Make sure that your healthcare providers clean their hands before examining you, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Family and friends who visit you should not touch the surgical wound or dressings. 
  • Family and friends should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you. If you do not see them clean their hands, ask them to clean their hands.

What do I need to do when I go home from the hospital?

  • Before you go home, your doctor or nurse should explain everything you need to know about taking care of your wound. Make sure you understand how to care for your wound before you leave the hospital.
  • Always clean your hands before and after caring for your wound.
  • Before you go home, make sure you know who to contact if you have questions or problems after you get home.
  • If you have any symptoms of an infection, such as redness and pain at the surgery site, drainage, or fever, call your doctor immediately.

If you have additional questions, please ask your doctor or nurse.


Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America
American Hospital Association
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
The Joint Commission


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