Hospital-Acquired Infections: What You Need to Know and How to Prevent Them

Imagine you are admitted to a hospital for a minor surgery. You are looking forward to a quick recovery and going back home soon. However, after the surgery, you start feeling feverish, chills, and pain in your abdomen. You also notice some redness and swelling around the wound site. You call the nurse and she tells you that you have developed a hospital-acquired infection (HAI).

A HAI is an infection that you get while receiving medical care in a health-care facility, such as a hospital or nursing homeIt cannot be present at the time of admission; rather, it must develop at least 48 hours after admissionThese infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other pathogens and are often linked to factors like invasive medical procedures, prolonged hospital stays, and weakened immune systems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HAIs are responsible for about 99,000 deaths in the United States every year. In Europe, where hospital surveys have been conducted, the category of gram-negative infections is estimated to account for two-thirds of the 25,000 deaths each year. HAIs can cause severe pneumonia and infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, and other parts of the body. Many types display antimicrobial resistance, which can complicate treatment.

How Common Are HAIs?

HAIs are not rare; they affect millions of patients every year around the world. However, many cases go undetected or unreported due to a lack of awareness or documentation. Some estimates suggest that up to 50% of all hospital-acquired infections may be missed.

The most common type of HAI is urinary tract infection (UTI), which occurs when bacteria enter the urinary system through the urethra or kidneys. UTIs can cause symptoms such as painful urination, flank pain, fever, and blood in urine. UTIs can also spread to other organs such as the bladder, prostate, or kidneys if left untreated.

The second most common type of HAI is surgical site infection (SSI), which occurs when bacteria enter the surgical wound during or after an operation. SSIs can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, pus drainage, fever, and increased pain at the site of surgery. SSIs can also lead to complications such as sepsis (a life-threatening condition where the body’s response to infection causes organ damage) or chronic wounds.

Other types of HAIs include ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), which occurs when bacteria enter the lungs during mechanical ventilation; central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI), which occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream through a central venous catheter; catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI), which occurs when bacteria enter the urinary system through a catheter; gastroenteritis (stomach flu), which occurs when bacteria enter the digestive system through contaminated food or water; puerperal fever (fever after childbirth), which occurs when bacteria enter the uterus during delivery; and Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), which occurs when bacteria overgrow in the colon due to antibiotic use.

How Can You Prevent HAIs?

The best way to prevent HAIs is to follow good hygiene practices before entering any healthcare facility. These include:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching any surfaces or equipment.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing.
  • Disposing of used tissues properly in a trash bin.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, razors, or toothbrushes with others.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces regularly.
  • Reporting any signs of illness such as fever, sore throat, or diarrhea to your healthcare provider.

Another way to prevent HAIs is to follow proper infection control procedures during medical care. These include:

  • Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, and masks when performing invasive procedures or handling potentially infectious materials.
  • Using sterile techniques such as hand hygiene, disinfection, and sterilization when preparing instruments, equipment, and surfaces for use.
  • Using single-use devices such as syringes, needles, and catheters as much as possible and disposing of them safely after use.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting reusable devices such as endoscopes, tubes,
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs.
  • Educating patients and their families about the risks and prevention of HAIs.
  • Following the prescribed course of antibiotics and other medications as instructed by your health-care provider.
  • Reporting any adverse reactions or side effects of medications to your healthcare provider.
  • Seeking immediate medical attention if you develop any signs of infection such as fever, chills, pain, swelling, redness, or pus at the site of surgery or catheter insertion.

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: https://www.cdc.gov/hai/data/index.html : https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/burden-healthcare-associated-infections-antimicrobial-resistance-european