When I think of the important battles in public health -- issues that our society recognize as priorities due to widespread problems or needs -- the issue of Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) doesn’t necessarily cross my mind right away.
But this is because I was totally unaware that according to the CDC’s data, one out of 20 patients who are hospitalized each year contract an HAI while undergoing treatment.
HAIs claim the lives of many people who already have vulnerable health statuses and incur huge costs for the health systems. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), “HAIs are the most common complication of hospital care and one of the leading causes of death in the US.”
On top of this, the cost associated with these infections is estimated at an excess of $28 to $33 billion. Clearly, this is a bigger battle than I originally thought!
Healthcare Associated Infections are caused by a “variety of common and unusual bacteria, fungi, and viruses” and are often related to devices such as catheters, ventilators or central lines, which are inserted into the body to perform important procedures.
These infections can occur either at the surgical site, or as part of a more systemic infection. HAIs may also be caused by prolonged use of antibiotics while hospitalized, which can result in a gastrointestinal infection called Clostridium difficile infection.
Additionally, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics, and occurs most frequently among patients in health care settings whose immune systems are already compromised and who come in contact with others who are already infected.
MRSA is most often a skin infection, and is also commonly spread in other situations where people come into close skin-to-skin contact like athletic facilities or dormitories.
Luckily, health professionals have made huge strides in reducing rates of HAI in hospital settings through increased education of providers, better enforcement of sterilization procedures and more research/surveillance at local, state and federal levels.