Healthcare-associated Infections Kill 5 Times More People Than AIDS Every Year

It has been over 30 years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of HIV/AIDS. Since then, so much has been done to learn more about the virus and disease, as well as significant attempts to raise awareness and prevent the transmission of the virus to uninfected individuals. It is estimated that nearly 30 million people have died as a result of HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s. While these needless deaths are truly a tragedy, what is almost more shocking is the fact that in the United States, more people die annually as a result of something many of you may have not heard of: Healthcare-associated Infections.

Healthcare-associated infections include a wide range of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that a patient acquires while in any healthcare setting. Common HAIs include central-line associated bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and surgical site infections. Collectively, more than 1.7 million HAIs occur every year, killing more than 99,000 people. AIDS kills 18,000.

One of the most important things we can recognize about HAIs is that those with weakened immune systems are most at risk. Therefore, there is a significant link between HAIs and HIV/AIDS patients, as the immune system in such individuals becomes compromised.

As those with some basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS likely know, opportunistic pathogens pose a major threat to immunosuppressed individuals. Opportunistic pathogens are bacterial, fungal, protozoal, and viral pathogens that take advantage of a certain situation—in this case a weakened immune system. Such pathogens can be a part of the normal human flora, causing no problems for the individual they inhabit—until that person’s body is unable to keep the opportunistic pathogen in check. A common example is a yeast infection after receiving antibiotic treatment. Another increasingly common example  is the bacteria Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, which has strengthened over time as a result of antibiotic resistance. While C. diff is problematic for all humans, those with HIV/AIDS need to be on the lookout, as this opportunistic pathogen is often deadly.

Because C. diff is able to form heat-resistant spores that can survive on surfaces for long periods of time, hand-sanitizing gel is often not enough to prevent a C. diff infection; hand washing is essential in order to remove any C. diff spores from the surface. This is an extremely important preventative measure for anyone receiving healthcare, not just those with HIV/AIDS.

It is important that we not only recognize the fact that healthcare-associated infections kill more people annually in the United States than HIV/AIDS, but also understand how the two go hand-in-hand in order to ensure that individuals infected with HIV take the necessary precautions to prevent acquiring further infections. While all individuals who receive healthcare should take such precautions, it is especially important for those who are immunosuppressed. As the fight against HIV/AIDS has demonstrated thus far, we have the power to save lives and prevent deadly illnesses through further research, medical advances, education, and other means. We need to keep looking to the future in the hope that we will one day find a cure to these needless diseases, and also remember that our common enemies are the disease-causing microbial pathogens.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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