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Department of Biology
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
When people are seriously ill, they rely on hospitals and healthcare workers to help them get better. However, there is a growing problem where people are acquiring new infections in hospitals that they would not have gotten otherwise. These are called nosocomial, or Hospital/Healthcare Acquired Infections (HAIs). HAIs are becoming more and more common, affecting about every 1 in 10 patients admitted; this risk can increase to over 1 in 4 for pediatric patients (Stubblefield and Rogers MD). There are a variety of factors that put a patient at risk for a nosocomial infection, including the immune system of the patient and the practices of the hospital. It is important for hospitals and healthcare facilities to properly sterilize and disinfect in order to minimize the risk of HAIs.
In order for an infection to be classified as nosocomial, there are only a few criteria it has to meet. First of all, the person must not have had any signs or symptoms of the infection prior to admission into the hospital. The infection must occur within 48 hours after admission into the hospital, 3 days after discharge from the hospital, up to 30 days after surgery, or in a long-term health care facility in which someone was admitted for different reasons (Stubblefield and Rogers MD). There are many different kinds of HAIs that people can contract, but the most common include: central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and surgical site infections (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). While bacteria alone cause roughly 90% of nosocomial infections, fungi and viruses can also infect patients while they are in the hospital (Stubblefield and Rogers MD).
Anybody that is admitted into a hospital is at risk of acquiring a nosocomial disease. However, there are certain factors that may put a person at an even higher risk for infection. These factors can include: hospital roommate(s), age (especially if over 70), length of antibiotic treatment, presence of a urinary catheter, length of time in the ICU, coma, shock or trauma, and a compromised immune system (Stubblefield and Rogers MD).
Knowing these risks, there are many steps that hospitals and health care facilities can take in order to lower the risk and prevent patients from acquiring infections. First and foremost, it is important for these facilities to follow all requirements for sterilizing and disinfecting (Stubblefield and Rogers MD). Also, many hospitals have stopped putting more than one patient in a hospital room, which significantly helps prevent infections spreading from patient to patient directly. It is also important for all healthcare workers to wear the appropriate gear (gloves, gowns, and face masks), and change these after each patient (Stubblefield and Rogers MD). Washing hands is also a major step in preventing the spread of HAIs. Hospitals now have signs posted that request patients to ask their doctor or nurse to wash their hands before examining them, ensuring that germs don’t spread. Other practices include ensuring that rooms are well ventilated, and equipment such as catheters and ventilators are properly cleaned and sterilized. It is important as a patient to talk to your healthcare providers about any concerns you have about the sterility of any equipment, and the level of cleanliness of the person taking care of you.
In short, nosocomial infections are any infections that occur while in a hospital. They occur fairly often in hospitals, with about 1 in 10 patients acquiring an HAI. There are a wide range of infections one can acquire, caused by various agents such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. They are often the result of poor hygienic practices by the healthcare workers, which can lead to unclean medical equipment and unwashed hands, among many other things. Anybody who is admitted into the hospital is at risk for developing an HAI, but there are certain factors, like a weakened immune system and length of time in the ICU, that can increase the risk. Hospitals have a large responsibility to lower the risks of nosocomial infections. It is important for hospitals to practice aseptic techniques whenever they deal with patients and take extra care to make sure rooms are sterilized between patients, in order to lower the incidence of HAIs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HAI Data. 5 October 2018. Web page. 12 November 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/hai/data/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fhai%2Fsurveillance%2Findex.html>.
Stubblefield, Heaven and Graham Rogers MD. What Are Nosocomial Infections? 24 October 2016. Web page. 12 November 2018. <https://www.healthline.com/health/hospital-acquired-nosocomial-infections>.
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