The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infectious diseases are the leading cause of sickness and death around the globe.
In the US alone, the cost of treating infectious diseases is about $120 billion.
That's why hospital rooms are required to be thoroughly cleaned before new patients arrive.
Despite the best housekeeping practices, harmful germs may still be lingering on items in a hospital room where you least expect them to be.
The reality is, germs are on everything we touch.
Most bacteria are harmless, but some can make you extremely sick, especially if you're already immune compromised.
That's why medical facilities are required to disinfect these rooms before new patients arrive.
According to a study by Xavier University in Cincinnati this doesn't always happen as well as it should.
Researchers found three out of four hospitals taking part in the survey didn't scrub the hospital bed mattresses to remove blood and infection before dousing them with disinfectants.
Furthermore, the cleaning products used in some facilities weren't even approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use on soft surfaces like the plastic protecting hospital bed mattresses.
And don't be fooled if you see fresh, new sheets on a bed. Germs and infection could come through the bedding contaminating the next patient if the mattress isn't clean.
Dr. Stephen Keener is the medical director for Mecklenburg County, NC. He says hospitals can't afford to make the mistake of inappropriately cleaning patient rooms.
"They have to ensure that the new patient has a reasonable guarantee of not getting sicker when they come to the hospital than when they arrived," Keener said.
Recently, America Now was given permission to observe an employee cleaning a hospital room.
The worker dusted the blinds, wiped down the paper towel dispenser and mopped the floor until it shined, among other things.
Researchers say there are surfaces in many hospital rooms, like the adjustment panel that raises and lowers a patient's bed and the nurse call button, that don't always receive this same level of attention.
Viruses on a hard surfaces like a remote control can live up to 72 hours, and they can be germier than most toilet seats according to a researcher at the University of Arizona.
And do you remember when male doctors wore ties?
"A few years back, maybe you notice that males in healthcare stopped wearing ties. The reason is they can carry germs just like privacy curtains," Keener said.
A University of Iowa study found that 92 percent of privacy curtains in hospitals were contaminated with dangerous bacteria one week after they were washed because so many people touched them including staff and visitors.
So, what can you do to reduce your exposure to hospital room germs?
Make use of antiseptic foam stations in common areas like the lobby or the elevators.
"What this does, number one, is it protects the patient from germs we bring in. Number two, it protects the visitor from germs they may take out," Kenner advises.
Two, avoid touching your face.
"Your eyes, your mouth, and your two nostrils – those are the places where cold viruses and influenza viruses, especially, can access your body," he says.
If you see a doctor or nurse touch a contaminated object after they sanitize their hands, you should speak up.
"If it were me, I would take that as constructive criticism and I would apologize and say –‘You know, you're right. Let me get some foam on my hands and we'll try again,'" Kenner says.
And remember, if you or your kids are sick, just stay home. Don't even think about going to a hospital to visit a friend or loved one until you are completely well.
If you are going to the hospital either as a patient or to visit someone, take a container of disinfectant wipes with you. When you enter the room, you can wipe down the items you will be touching the most.
The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an article entitled "Why is handwashing important?" < http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r2k0306c.htm>
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