Healthcare-associated Infections: A Preventable Worldwide Problem

Healthcare-associated infections occur when a patient acquires an infection during the course of treatment at, or a visit to, a healthcare facility

Globally, healthcare-associated infections involve millions of people and kill hundreds of thousands of people annually. Available statistics suggest that 8,500 to 12,000 Canadians will die from HAIs every year1, making these infections one of the largest killers in Canada.

Healthcare-associated infections occur when a patient acquires an infection during the course of treatment at, or a visit to, a healthcare facility. It is classified as an HAI once doctors have ruled out that the patient did not enter the healthcare facility with this infection present. The duration of the infection has to be at least 48 hours to be considered an HAI2. In some unfortunate situations where the patient is admitted for less than 48 hours, the infection will not show up until after the patient has been released from the hospital. These HAIs may not be included in the statistics. Many of the patients affected by an HAI will not return to the original hospital, but rather will go to local family doctors or smaller local hospitals and health clinics. As many operations, hospital visits or even visits to health care clinics involve a visit of less than 48 hours, the true extent of the HAI problem is not known.

The main types of healthcare-associated infections are urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and lower respiratory tract infections. These type of infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi and they can originate from contaminated surgical tools or be carried by healthcare workers. Some HAIs can be prevented using advanced technologies that prevent biofilm buildup in catheters and endotracheal breathing tubes.

Healthcare-associated infections occur because harmful bacteria are able to make their way into surgical incisions, urinary catheters, IV catheters and the breathing tubes necessary to sustain the patients throughout their hospital visits. The types of bacteria in hospitals include some of the deadliest superbugs many of which are resistant to antibiotics.

The first priority, however,  is to understand the problem. We need greater awareness at all levels of society about this life-threatening issue so that we can develop effective prevention strategies. Not only is it a burden to the patients that catch the infection and their families, but it is also  an economic challenge costing $35-$45 billion to the US healthcare systems in the US alone.  Healthcare-associated infections represent a serious risk to society since HAIs affect up to 10% of patients now seeking treatment in a hospital3. The urgency for action is compounded by the fact that many of the antibiotics used to treat these healthcare-associated infections are no longer effective as the HAIs have developed resistance to them.

It has been demonstrated that simple techniques such as frequent hand washing, proper attire, judicious use of antibiotics and other approaches can dramatically reduce HAIs. Implementation of such approaches can reduce infections by over 50%. Further research and support towards solving the problem of HAIs is in the best interest for everyone concerned.

  1. http://cupe.ca/updir/Hospital_room_tour_fact_sheet.pdf
  2. Nguyen QV. Hospital acquired infections. Emedicine. 2004
  3. Aodhán S Breathnacha, Nosocomial infections, Medicine, 2005: 33, 22-26
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4 Responses to “Healthcare-associated Infections: A Preventable Worldwide Problem”

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