Why Do Healthcare-Associated Infections Occur?

Patients who receive healthcare rarely assume they’ll get sick. Hospitals are often considered one of the safest and cleanest places for patients. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that 1 out of 25 patients will acquire an infection from the facility.

What Is a “Healthcare-Associated Infection”?

Simply put, a healthcare-associated infection is an infection that patients get from their healthcare provider. A contaminated cup or a nurse can be responsible for the hospital-acquired infection, legally-speaking. However, improper hygiene and protocol is the usual cause.

This type of infection can look different depending on how it is acquired. Infections due to catheter use are most popular in these circumstances.

A catheter-associated infection is caused by bacteria. These infections can cause urinary tract infections, Clostridium difficile, and skin reactions.   

Hospital-onset Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is another type of bacterial infection. MRSA is typically spread through contamination and is often caused by unclean devices or lack of handwashing. Without treatment, this infection can lead to sepsis.

Contamination in a hospital setting can be avoided. Usually, bacteria is spread by close contact with medical devices or open wounds. Sharing towels and razors can also spread bacteria from patient to patient.   

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia

Ventilator-associated pneumonia is actually a lung infection that develops from the tube of the ventilator itself. If germs enter the tube, the mouth and nose directly inhale bacteria into their lungs.

This type of lung infection usually occurs when the patient’s head is lying flat. The ventilator equipment and tube must be cleaned between patients and nurses must use an alcohol-based soap.

Some of these lung infections can be treated with antibiotics. Depending on the type of germs, different antibiotics may need to be prescribed. If a patient does not seek treatment for this type of infection, it will stay in the body.

It is estimated that 75,000 patients will die every year from a healthcare-associated infection. Most of these deaths can be prevented.

High-Risk Patients

Any patient that must stay in a hospital for an extended period of time faces an increased risk of infection. This can happen if multiple medical conditions are treated all at once.

Premature babies that do not have a healthy immune system are considered high-risk. Even children over the age of five are much more susceptible than adults.

Elderly patients are also at high risk. Advanced age increases the likelihood of hospitalization and the use of catheters.

Even patients with a healthy immune system can acquire these infections. Since they are due to the healthcare system, there is only so much a patient can prepare for.

What To Look For

If you have an infection that was not apparent before visiting a healthcare facility, it could be healthcare-related. Some infections, like skin conditions, can be visible to the naked eye.

A surgical site infection (SSI) occurs in the area where the surgery took place. Many times the infection only irritates the skin.

An SSI looks red and the skin around it may begin to flake. If this is accompanied by a fever, the infection could be serious.

Healthcare-acquired infections are found in a variety of settings. Outpatient doctor’s offices, hospitals, home nursing, and medical clinics are just a few locations.

Healthcare Precautions

Before surgery, patients can ask about basic hygiene. Did the nurse wash their hands beforehand? Is the soap alcohol-based?

Certain safety precautions can be seen by the patient. Nurses should wear special hair covers and gloves.

Shaving before surgery can be dangerous. If a nurse or doctor uses a razor to shave the surgical area, the skin can become brittle and irritated.

What You Can Do

There are a few tips for patients who want to avoid healthcare-associated infections. If there are additional health conditions, this should be made clear before any operation.

Quitting smoking can also help. While not everyone is able to quit cold turkey, cutting back can decrease the chances of infection.

Even with these precautions in place, patients can still acquire a hospital-associated infection. Both the patient and medical staff must work together to ensure safety.

Are Hospitals Safe?

Although healthcare infections are far from rare, hospitalization may be necessary. Before being admitted to the hospital, a self-health check can help.

If there is no fever, any infection that happens during a hospital stay is likely due to the healthcare facility. Bringing a friend or family member before an operation may help.

The healthcare profession is not perfect, but it is imperative for our wellbeing. Preparing for surgery and knowing what to watch can help any patient stay healthy.

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