If you go into the hospital for certain types of surgery, you have a one-in-five chance of contracting a serious infection that could require intravenous antibiotic or even a nursing home stay.

A simple procedure pioneered by a Los Angeles area surgeon -- involving something you probably already have at home -- can stop these infections.

Dr. Shirin Towfigh of Cedars Sinai Medical Center discovered magic in a cotton swab.

Dr. Shirin Towfigh, Cedars Sinai Medical Center:

Its so simple. It's a cheap product... a cotton tip applicator.

Other doctors initially balked.

Dr. Shirin Towfigh, Cedars Sinai Medical Center:

They thought it was very odd to stick something inside someone's wound. They thought it would cause pain... not really do anything... that it's all voodoo.

Dr. Towfigh's wound probing technique -- just poking an incision site with a swab daily after surgery -- resulted in a six-fold drop in infections.

Meantime, patient advocate Alicia Cole, who almost died of flesh-eating bacteria she contracted following routine fibroid surgery, is on a mission to clean up hospitals and protect you from going thru the agony she went through.

What was supposed to be a two day hospital stay turned into a two month hospital nightmare in which she nearly died on several occasions.

While hospitalized,  she says noticed several lapses in hospital cleanliness. She wasn't bathed for days, and says she noticed hospital staff treating her without washing their hands and using gloves.

Alicia says every patient must be on guard while hospitalized. She believes simple steps -- like teeth brushing, bathing, hand washing, and air filtration -- can make a huge difference.

She has been to Sacramento several times to lobby lawmakers to force hospitals to disclose their infection rates in a public database.

For more stories from KTTV in Los Angeles go to myfoxla.com.

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