Prevention and Treatment of Hospital-Acquired Infections

Hospital-acquired infections (HAI), also called nosocomial infections, are a huge problem in medical environments. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that in the United States alone, 1.7 million infections are identified and 99,000 people die each year from associated complications.

What are some of the most common hospital-acquired infections?

Of hospital-acquired infections, 32 percent are urinary tract infections (UTI), 22 percent are surgical site infections (SSI), 15 percent are pneumonia/lung infections, and 14 percent are bloodstream infections. Some of these infections are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C Diff), which cause serious and life-threatening infections such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical site infections.

In fact, these types of infections are so serious that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has committed to the prevention of HAIs, with MRSA and central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) as their main targets. CLABSIs occur when bacteria enters the bloodstream through a flexible tube placed in a large vein. They result in thousands of deaths annually and add millions of dollars to the costs of the U.S. healthcare system.

What are the primary treatments for hospital-acquired infections?

Prevention is the first line of defense for HAIs, and to that end, progress is being made with additional training for medical staff. Frequent hand washing and using alcohol spray, cleaning equipment with alcohol, wearing protective gloves, and disinfecting skin before insertion of catheters can reduce HAIs by up to 70 percent, according to recent studies.

Treatment for HAIs varies depending upon the infection and severity, but treatment for symptoms of shock, hypoventilation or other complications are needed, along with a broad-spectrum antimicrobial regimen.

Bloodstream infection care is varied based on the cause, health of patient and length of symptoms. Antibiotics are tailored to the situation, and in some cases, antifungal therapy or antiviral therapy is used when appropriate. While the length of therapy varies, it typically continues until 10-14 days after blood cultures are clear.

For ventilator-associated pneumonia cases (VAP), most doctors treat for 14-21 days with antimicrobial therapy. Often, antiviral medications are used to treat symptoms or chronic lung diseases as well. UTI treatment generally begins with removal of the catheter, which often helps the patient improve quickly. Again, 10-14 days of antibiotic and antifungal medications keep complications and additional damage or infections to a minimum.

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