Are you at risk of acquiring a hospital infection?

An illness or injury that prompts a stay in the hospital has its own worries and anxieties. You may be focused on your symptoms and the prognosis for your recovery as well as contending with the unfamiliar and overwhelming bustle around you.

Even if you are in the hospital for a routine procedure, you likely feel nervous being in unfamiliar surroundings and the possibility of medical error during your stay. Unfortunately, your fears are reasonable. Medical mistakes are more common than most patients realize.

One of the most frequent and preventable medical mistakes is poor hygiene resulting in deadly infections. Here's how those infections happen.

Surgical infections

Undergoing surgery, even laparoscopic surgery, is an invasive process. All South Carolina hospitals must follow protocols for preventing infection during surgery, but all surgeons, surgery nurses, anesthesiologists and others in the operating room must also use their own common sense.

For example, anyone entering the operating room should scrub up by disinfecting their hands and arms, and use gloves, face masks and other protective garments to avoid contaminating your surgical site and resulting wounds. If they sneeze, cough, use their cellphone (a known carrier of all kinds of bacteria) or otherwise contaminate the area, they need to repeat this process and acquire clean garments.

In spite of these practical procedures, however, surgical site infections are among the most frequent kinds of infections patients may suffer.

Contaminated devices

In addition to unsanitary hands during operative and post-operative care, poorly sterilized rooms or medical tools can cause serious infections. Hospitals should have protocols in place for how to clean, transport and store medical and surgical instruments to ensure their sterility.

As a case in point, urinary tract infections are among the most prevalent issues patients deal with during and after a hospital stay. Cost-cutting hospitals may re-use catheters to save money. Once again, though, unclean hands may be the culprit. A nurse or doctor who inserts or removes any invasive device -- such as a catheter, central line, IV or trachea tube -- must have scrupulously clean hands and make sure the device and area surrounding the procedure are sterile.

Legal remedies for hospital-acquired infections

While it is true that airborne germs in the hospital may place you at risk of infection, infections are more likely to be caused by contact with contaminated hands or the hospital's poor attention to cleanliness and hygiene protocol.

Many hospital procedures no longer require an extended stay. In fact, your doctor may discharge you within hours of surgery or an outpatient procedure, so determining the source of an infection is often challenging.

Nevertheless, you may have valid grounds for a medical malpractice if you developed a hospital-acquired infection after a medical procedure. A skilled lawyer can investigate your circumstances and advise you on possible next steps.