If you have to go to the hospital, know this: About one in 20 patients contract infections during their stay, and 31,000 patients die from those infections every year. 

The problem is so serious that some hospitals are investing in state-of-the-art sanitizing equipment, like robots that can zap bacteria with ultraviolet light. But Dr. Cliff McDonald from the CDC says, no matter how well a room is disinfected, it only takes one staff member or visitor to leave potentially deadly germs behind.

Here are three ways experts say you should be proactive and protect yourself:

  • Start by: Choosing your hospital with care. Infection rates can vary widely from one facility to another. So, before surgery, ask about the hospital’s infection rates, which are measured using "catheter days," meaning the number of infections compared to the number of patents hooked up to IVs and other catheters in a 24-hour period. A good rate is zero per one-thousand catheter days. If it's 3 or more, experts suggest finding another hospital. You can also log on to Medicare.gov/hospitalcompare. You can find hospitals in your area and compare them by infection rates and other criteria.

  • Next: when you go to the hospital matters. Research shows that July is the most error-prone month. Because that’s when new residents, fresh out of medical school, start treating patients. So, don’t schedule any elective surgery in July. 

  • The final way to avoid infections in the hospital: Insist that everyone who enters your room skip the hand sanitizer, and wash their hands with soap and water. That’s because the superbug C-diff is resistant to the alcohol-based products used in most hospitals.