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Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI)

Founder’s Spotlight: Hospital Acquired Infections 

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What is a Hospital Acquired Infection (HAI)?

An HAI is something that all patients are at-risk for while receiving treatment in a hospital or long-term health care facility including nursing homes, surgical clinics and rehabilitation centers.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of every 25 patients will develop an infection associated with their hospital stay. In U.S. hospitals alone, the CDC concluded that HAIs affect approximately 1.7 million patients and cause approximately 100,000 deaths on an annual basis.

What Factors Cause Patients to Develop an HAI?

HAIs are caused by bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens. Infections are often associated with the medical devices used in procedures such as ventilators and catheters. Surfaces, bedding and floors are also harvesters of germs when not cleaned properly and frequently.

Moreover, the air in hospitals is contaminated with these same pathogens. Operating rooms and intensive care units would highly benefit from a patented UV-C system that when installed, can clean the air quickly and continuously to aid in the reduction of HAIs.

VidaShield is a company offering technology that claims to reduce HAIs by as much as 58%. This technology is available and gives hospitals the opportunity to clean the air so the question remains…why don’t more hospitals make the effort?

When Are Infections the Fault of the Hospital?

The health care facility can be held responsible for a patient’s HAI if it is proven that the facility’s negligence caused the infection to manifest. A strong connection between the neglectful behavior and the manifestation of the infection must be illustrated.

Forms of negligence by a hospital or other long-term care facility include:

Absence of informed consent: The facility is responsible for informing patients of the risk of infections prior to performing a procedure.

The facility’s staff fails to follow sterilization procedures: This encompasses the failure to sterilize and properly clean surgical instruments, clothes, hands, floors, bedding and surfaces.

What Are the Types of HAIs?

The CDC estimates that HAIs account for approximately 1.7 million infections and 100,000 related deaths in American hospitals annually.

 Of these HAIs:

  • 32% are catheter-associated urinary tract infections
  • 22% are surgical site infections
  • 15% are pneumonia cases often caused by ventilator use
  • 14% are bloodstream infection often caused by central line use
  • 17% are contributed to other types of infections

The most common HAIs include:

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections: A UTI involves any part of the urinary system including the kidneys, bladder urethra or ureters. A urinary catheter is a tube that is inserted into the bladder through the urethra to drain a patient’s urine. Approximately 15-25% of patients receive a catheter during their hospital stay.

Bloodstream infections: These infections are typically caused by the use of a central line also known as a central venous catheter. This long tube is used to provide patients with medications, nutrients, fluids or other products for an extended period. 

Pneumonia: Many of the cases of hospital associated pneumonia are caused by ventilators. Ventilators are used to help patients breathe by providing oxygen via a tube that is inserted into a patient’s mouth, nose or through a hole in the neck. An infection can occur if any contaminants enter the tube and get into the lungs.

Clostridium difficile (C-Diff): The germ C. difficile is the cause of this common HAI. This type of germ causes inflammation of the colon and patients who develop C-Diff suffer from severe diarrhea, fever, nausea, appetite loss and abdominal pain. C-Diff is found in feces and patients that encounter devices or surfaces (toilets, bath tubs, rectal thermometers etc.) that contain the germ can become infected. Patients who are on antibiotics for a prolonged amount of time are at higher risk for developing this condition. Elderly patients are at an elevated risk for contracting c-diff since they are more likely to use antibiotics for an extended period of time due to chronic illnesses.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus:  Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is responsible for many difficult to treat infections and is highly-resistant to antibiotics. MRSA is prevalent in hospitals, prisons and nursing homes and other long-term facilities. Patients in these types of crowded facilities who have a weakened immune system, open sores or who use catheters are at high-risk for MRSA.

Surgical site infections: These infections occur after surgery in the portion of the body where the procedure was performed. Some of these infections may involve the skin only, but often prove to be more serious when they effect the organs, other tissue and implanted medical devices.

Other Possible HAIs Include:

  • Hepatitis
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV/AIDS)
  • Influenza
  • Norovirus

Can HAIs Be Prevented?

The majority of HAIs can be prevented by simple measures including:

  • Frequent hand-washing by medical professionals and patients
  • Thorough sterilization of catheters and other medical instruments
  • Instituting a strict disposal system for needles, instruments, bodily fluids etc.
  • The restriction of antibiotics
  • Wiping down and disinfecting communal surfaces frequently
  • Air filtration/cleaning

The CDC created an HAI progress report which details progress on a state and national level in the prevention of HAIs. The most recent report was published in 2016. This report details the progress that hospitals are making to eliminate HAIs.


Who’s at Risk?

All hospital patients are at risk for developing an HAI. However, some are more susceptible than others—young children, elderly patients and those with compromised or weakened immune systems.

What’s at Risk?

Patients who develop an HAI due to a surgical procedure spend approximately, an additional 6.5 days in the hospital. These patients are five times more likely to be readmitted after discharge and twice as likely to die. Additionally, surgical patients who develop infections are 60 percent more likely to need admission to a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). HAIs account for approximately ten billion dollars annually in health care costs.

How Can Patients Help Protect Themselves Against HAIs?

Patients should learn as much as they can about their treatment and not be afraid to ask questions about what their hospital is doing to protect them from infection. Families and patients should research their hospital options and choose wisely. The CDC created a preparation infographic how patients and their families can be proactive instead of reactive.

What Are My Legal Options?

1-800-LAW-FIRM has over thirty years of experience working with patients who were victims of medical malpractice. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a hospital acquired infection, contact the medical malpractice team at 1-800-LAW-FIRM. All calls are free and confidential. There is no obligation and no up-front fees.

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