Healthcare-Associated Infections: Overabundant and Underreported

It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing something about new advances in cancer research, or a recent car accident that has claimed the life of an innocent victim. While these examples are serious and noteworthy issues that deserve media attention. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are the reason why approximately 99,000 people die annually in the United States alone, yet this issue receives little media attention compared to other diseases and events. As the ability to control and prevent such infections increases, the occurrence of HAIs becomes more and more unacceptable.
HAIs are a major problem, causing nearly 1.7 million infections annually and up to $45 billion in additional costs in the US healthcare system alone. Emotionally and financially devastating to those involved, the majority of such infections are preventable. While progress has been made recently to combat such infections, more general awareness needs to be raised in order for patients and their families to understand the risks they face while receiving healthcare, and what can be done to protect those at risk.

Every individual person has a voice in the fight against healthcare-associated infections. Every small victory is a step in the right direction, and such accomplishments continually add up, increasing patient safety and awareness. In the winter of 2009, I testified at the Rhode Island State House on behalf of a bill that was aimed at forcing hospitals in the state to issue public reports on infection rates. At the time I was a freshman at Providence College, and had lost my dad to such infections only several months prior. As I stood in an office full of people who I had interned for the previous year as a senior in high school, I told my story about how drastically my life had changed in the short time since I had worked with them. The bill ended up being passed, and demonstrates how every individual has a voice that deserves to be heard.

By working to prevent HAIs, we can save lives, reduce costs associated with such infections, and improve the overall quality of patient care and health. To better understand what can be done to prevent such infections, it is first important to understand how they are transmitted, as well as what the most common HAIs are. The use of catheters (bloodstream, endotracheal, urinary, etc.) present a major risk for HAIs, as well as surgical procedures, injections, person to person transmission, contaminated healthcare environments, and overuse of antibiotics. Common HAIs include urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the Partnership for Patients in 2011 as a public-private partnership aimed at improving hospital safety, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. The HHS has set a goal to reduce HAIs by 40 percent by the end of 2013, and if met, will save more than 60,000 lives and $35 billion dollars within the healthcare system over the next three years.
While such large-scale initiatives are a step in the right direction, each and every individual can play a major role in the prevention of HAIs. Asking questions and communicating with healthcare providers has been proven to be one of the most effective strategies in patient safety. Hand washing is another essential strategy in the prevention of HAIs, as hand sanitizer alone is not enough to prevent bacteria such as C. difficile, an emerging threat due in part to antibiotic resistance. Keeping all healthcare environments clean and sterile is also important, as some bacteria are able to live for days and weeks on surfaces, and also because others are able to form heat-resistant spores. Family members need to advocate for their loved ones while they are receiving healthcare. If you think something is going wrong, chances are something probably is.
There are new technologies being developed with the goal of reducing HAIs. One example is the MRSAid Photodisinfection System, which is used to eradicate bacterial pathogens from the nasal passages. Another one is the Patient Pod, which is a kit containing all the essentials needed to keep patients safe in healthcare settings. There are also several hospitals that have been key players in the fight against HAIs. The HHS has recently partnered-up with the Critical Care Societies Collaborative (CCSC), and has recognized several healthcare facilities for their efforts to prevent and eliminate HAIs. For more information about the institutions involved, and a full list of recipients, please visit the HHS and CCSC Collaborative National Awards Program website.
The take-home message is that HAI prevention is essential in order to combat such infections. These infections pose a threat to any individual receiving healthcare, regardless of age, race, gender, etc. While the number of various initiatives aimed at combating HAIs and raising awareness is on the rise, every individual is capable of taking part in the prevention of such infections. As someone who has always had a keen interest in history, I often remind myself that if it weren’t for the actions of our ancestors, we wouldn’t be where we are today in terms of progress. While we still have a ways to go, every action aimed at preventing HAIs brings us one step closer to eradicating this needless problem.
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2 Responses to “Healthcare-Associated Infections: Overabundant and Underreported”

  1. andy says:

    i am a mrsa surviver, the work being done to help protect and stop mrsa needs to continue, even after they “kill” the mrsa in you, you still have lasting effects of it, and the potential for it to happen again, you get sick easy, a simple cold turns in to phnemoia and into another infection you have to fight, a ear ache turns in to a infection, the septic arthritis you have from the surgery that gave you the mrsa is so painful and there is little that helps the pain, you dont sleep at night, you are tired all day, you wonder if the next time you get a cold or phnemona, will it kill you this time? please please get rid of mrsa, and you quacks out there that dont belive that you dont need antibiotics after a major surgery, you need to quit doing surgery, esp when you will get antibiotics when you get stitches from a cut, but not from a surgery, it will save a life, get off your god pedistals and help people, or quit before you kill more!!!!

  2. andy says:

    i will add just a little more to my prior comment, it is really hard when you are treated like you have a.i.d.s when you tell a new health care provider you have m.r.s.a or are a surviver of mrsa, they dont want to touch you, you are put off as long as possible to see if you will leave, and if you do get seen you get the brush off and referal to another place and still get charged for the visit. what happened to morals with doctors, what happened to hospitals looking out for there paitents ? instead they cover up a doctors mistakes, they cover up the mrsa that is in the hospital, and if you report it to the state you live in they wont invistgate it unless you actualy have pictures of the dirt and filth in the hospital, then the state will act, in my case they found juice that was expired and open while i was in the hospital, and the invistagation was done 3 or 4 months after i left the hospital and that same juice was still in the fridge, so how much of that did i drink ? how much did they give to other people ????

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