Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs), also known as Healthcare Acquired Infections, are acquired by patients receiving treatment at a healthcare facility. This is not limited to hospitals but can include infections acquired at any healthcare facility or through any healthcare professional, including doctors and nurses.
Patients can contract these infections in many different ways including through the bloodstream, lungs, skin, urinary tract, or digestive tract. The infections can be quite serious and also hard to treat which means in some cases they can be deadly.
What are Healthcare Acquired Infection Types?
There are many types of HAIs including:
- Central Line Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI) – Bloodstream infections via central lines that are often inserted in the large veins of the neck, chest or groin result in thousands of deaths per year and add billions to healthcare costs.
- Methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) caused by germs entering a patient’s bloodstream through a catheter or medical tube inserted into the vein.
- Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI) caused by germs entering the body via a urinary catheter either through homecare or when a patient is under care at a healthcare facility.
- Surgical Site Infections (SSI) at the site of a surgical wound that can range from skin infections to deeper tissue or organ infection.
- Ventilator-associated Pneumonia (VAP) in patients on a ventilator, causing infections in the lungs from germs on the ventilator tubes.
- Clostridium difficile Infections (CDIs), or C-diff causing chronic diarrhea often in older patients on antibiotics or who require ongoing medical services.
- Sepsis caused by an existing infection that triggers a chain reaction throughout the patient’s entire body.
How Can Healthcare Providers and Facilities Prevent HAIs?
Healthcare providers and facilities can help prevent HAIs by taking the following steps:
- Ensuring health care workers and other facility staff are compliant with strict handwashing protocols keeping sanitizers and handwashing stations available throughout key areas of the facility where staff come into contact with patients.
- Attending to open wounds diligently to keep them clean, and changing dressings at appropriate intervals.
- Keeping catheter and medical tube sites clean.
- Ensuring patients with a pre-existing condition that can be spread to other patients are kept separate from other patients.
- Ensuring patients at the facility who develop a contractable illness are moved into a safe area to avoid transmission to healthcare workers and other patients.
- Only prescribing antibiotics when necessary with clear instructions that patients must complete the entire prescription.
- Introducing strict antimicrobial stewardship including staff training.
How Does the Department of Health Protect the Public from HAIs?
The Department of Health also plays a role in reducing the risk of HAIs including:
- Performing ongoing inspections of residential healthcare facilities and hospitals.
- Tracking infection outbreaks.
- Monitoring infection rates at hospitals to spot issues with healthcare quality.
The CDC is another important resource when it comes to HAIs, with a range of useful information for both the clinician and layperson.
What are Healthcare Associated Infections Action Plans?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Action Plan to Prevent Health Care Associated Infection tracks population based harm from HAIs nationally. The goal is to reduce infections in intensive care units and in patients being treated in hospital wards including CAUTIs, MRSAs, hospital-onset MRSA bloodstream infections and CDIs.
The action plan also aims to reduce the frequency of C-diff hospitalizations and SSIs. A standardized infection ratio (SIR) is used to compare the number of HAIs to the predicted number of infections using national baseline data.
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