I’m sure that you have heard, at one time or another, that a room was “so clean, you could eat off the floor.” The idea is that not even the floor would have anything on it that could get you sick. Of course, we do not expect the floors in most homes and businesses – or even in restaurants – to be that clean. But most of us would expect, or even assume, that hospital floors come close to that ideal. After all, if there is anywhere where cleanliness is paramount, it is a hospital.
The reality, however, is that the floors in hospitals may put you at greater risk given the types of pathogens that are routinely found in hospitals, such as antibiotic resistant bacteria, but not necessarily found outside of them.
One recent study found that the floors of patient rooms are quickly contaminated shortly after they are cleaned. Of course, outside of a sealed sterile environment, some contamination is inevitable. But what researchers found is that the bacteria and other pathogens on the floors of a patient’s room can readily be transferred to other patients, increasing their risk for a variety of infections. They also can make their way to hospital staff, to visitors and even to other parts of the hospital.
To determine how they migrate to patients (and visitors and staff), non-infectious material was put on the floor and then tracked to see where and how it ended up. This “follow the trail” study showed that pathogens can hitch a ride on literally anything that touches the floor. This includes the call button, the television remote, chairs, the telephone cord, purses and briefcases, bed linen and coats. It especially includes the anti-slip socks that hospitals give to patients to help prevent falls. From these surfaces, the germs then make their way onto patient, visitor and staff hands as well as other high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, laptop keyboards, pens, phones, computer mice, trays and bed rails. And, in the case of the socks especially, even into patient beds.
This is a serious health issue since, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two million people are infected annually with antibiotic resistant bacteria and over 20,000 people succumb to them. In general, almost 700,000 people get an infection from their hospital visit (known as either healthcare associated infections (HAIs) or nosocomial infections). So, as with other things pertaining to your health, it’s up to you to be proactive about protecting yourself and your loved ones when you are an inpatient at a hospital or visiting someone who is.
So, which pathogens lurk on hospital floors?
Researchers studying exactly which pathogens are on hospital floors found the following:
- More than 20 percent of the floors in their sample had methicillin resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA), a staph infection which can cause pneumonia, skin infections and blood infections
- Almost 75 percent had Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), which causes stomach pain and severe diarrhea
- A third had vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), which can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) as well as wound infections
They also found that almost 60 percent of contaminated objects that touched the floor transferred bacteria to hands.
HAIs can also put you, as a patient, at risk for sepsis, which is a very serious medical condition. It occurs because of your body’s immune system going into overdrive in an attempt to kill off an infection. This causes widespread inflammation, leading to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. Septic shock can quickly follow, in which blood pressure plummets, organs fail, and eventually, you may die, often in a matter of days.
How to be proactive
There is a lot you can do to help reduce the risk of getting an infection from the pathogens on hospital floors (and other hospital surfaces) as well as helping your immune system fight off any pathogens should you catch one despite your and the hospital’s best efforts. The first is to be proactive about protecting yourself. Things you can readily do are:
- Avoid touching, as much as possible, things in your room that come in contact with the floor, such as shoes and slippers
- Bring your own sanitizing/disinfecting wipes and/or spray, and clean surfaces before you touch or use them, for example the television remote, call button, door knobs or bed rails
- Change non slip socks before getting back into bed after using the washroom, stretching your legs or visiting other parts of the hospital
- Don’t be shy about asking hospital staff to wash their hands and disinfect medical equipment before using them (think of how many people a stethoscope may touch before your doctor uses it with you)
- When it’s mealtime, keep your tray on the portable table and avoid putting the plate or utensils on your bed (and don’t put food on your bed either)
- Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, when returning to your room, and before and after eating
- Immediately alert medical staff if you start to experience signs of a possible infection, such as feeling feverish, experiencing new or worsening pain, sweating or general malaise
And in terms of making sure your body can better fight off any infections, steps you can take include:
- Talking with your doctor to make sure your vaccinations are up to date
- Eating a nutrient-rich diet and avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet (to learn more about these nutrients and healthy food sources where you can get them, read here)
- Practice stress relieving activities such as meditation and yoga since stress also wreaks havoc on your immune system
- Make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep to help combat stress and strengthen the immune system
- Get adequate exercise (even walking counts)
Also talk with your doctor about getting routine nutrient tests. Schedule these tests to identify any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies you may have. If the test reveals you have too much or too little of a certain nutrient, your doctor can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.