5 common Hospital Acquired Infections

Common hospital acquired infections range from UTI to pneumonia. These can vary in severity and must be prevented at any cost.

Has it ever happened that you or your loved one got admitted to a hospital for one health issue, but ended up with an acquired infection that was not present at the time of admission? These are hospital-acquired infections that can be fatal sometimes. Also known as Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs),  these are often caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 31 US patients, and one in 43 residents at nursing homes, has an infection due to inadequate healthcare practices at US healthcare facilities. When a person is admitted to the hospital, his or her immune system is already weakened dur to the illness that he is seeking treatment for. At times, microorganisms in the environment or inadequate hygiene can also lead to hospital acquired infections.

Health Shots got in touch with Internal medicine specialist Dr Suchismitha Rajamanya, to understand why hospital-acquired infections happen and how to protect yourself from these.

What are hospital-acquired infections?

Hospitals are bustling environments filled with people seeking care. Hospital-acquired infections are infections that people get while they may be staying in a hospital or when admitted to other healthcare facilities. “It means they didn’t have that infection when they arrived, but they caught it while they were being treated there. They are also known as nosocomial infections,” explains Dr Rajamanya. They can range from mild to life-threatening, adding an unexpected layer of challenge to your recovery journey.

A woman with stomach ache
UTIs are the a common hospital-acquired infection that people go through. Image courtesy: Freepik

Symptoms of hospital acquired infections

Symptoms of hospital-acquired infections vary depending on the type of infection and the affected area of the body. However, common symptoms may include:

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• Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s)
• Surgical Site Infections
• Gastroenteritis
• Meningitis
• Pneumonia

Causes of hospital acquired infections

Here are some of the common causes of hospital-acquired infections:

1. Microorganisms

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens can spread in healthcare settings due to close proximity between patients, contaminated equipment, or healthcare workers.

2. Weakened immune system

Patients in hospitals often have weakened immune systems due to illness or medical treatments, making them more susceptible to infections.

3. Invasive procedures

Surgeries, insertion of catheters, and other invasive procedures can create opportunities for infection to enter the body.

4. Antibiotic resistance

Misuse or overuse of antibiotics can lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making infections harder to treat.

5. Poor hygiene practices

Inadequate hand hygiene among healthcare workers, improper cleaning and disinfection of medical equipment, and insufficient environmental hygiene can contribute to the spread of infections.

Who are at most risk for these healthcare-associated infections?

Individuals at the highest risk for hospital-acquired infections include:

1. Immunocompromised Patients

Such as those undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant recipients.

2. Patients with Foley’s catheter, peripheral and central venous lines

A study, published in Indian Journal of Critical Care medicine, states that the bacteria in the blood present in the intravenous catheter can frequently lead to Central venous catheter-related bloodstream infection (CRBSI).

3. Elderly Individuals

Who may have weaker immune systems and other underlying health conditions.

4. Patients with chronic illnesses

Patients who are dealing with diseases such as as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

5. Surgical Patients

Especially those undergoing procedures that involve incisions or the insertion of medical devices are at high risk.

6. Patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs)

Due to their critical condition and prolonged exposure to invasive procedures and medical equipment.

A man collecting blood samples.
Laboratory tests are a great way to diagnose hospital-acquired infections. Image courtesy: Freepik

5 most common hospital acquired infections

Top 5 most common hospital-acquired infections and how to safeguard against them are as follows:

1. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Ensure proper catheter care and removal when no longer necessary. Encourage adequate hydration and frequent bathroom breaks.

2. Surgical Site Infections (SSIs)

Maintain strict sterile techniques during surgery, proper wound care post-operation, and timely removal of sutures or staples.

3. Pneumonia

Implement strategies to prevent aspiration, such as elevating the head of the bed, oral hygiene, and early mobilization of patients.

4. Bloodstream Infections (Sepsis)

Follow strict aseptic techniques during invasive procedures, use sterile equipment, and adhere to central line bundle protocols.

5. Clostridium difficile Infections (CDIs)

Promote appropriate antibiotic use, implement strict contact precautions for infected patients, and maintain thorough environmental cleaning and disinfection protocols.

How are hospital acquires infections diagnosed and treated?

Hospital-acquired infections are diagnosed through various methods including:

1. Clinical evaluation

Healthcare providers assess symptoms and medical history to determine the likelihood of an infection.

2. Laboratory tests

Samples of blood, urine, or other bodily fluids may be collected and analyzed to identify the infectious agent.

3. Imaging studies

X-rays, CT scans, or other imaging tests may be conducted to assess the extent of infection and its effects on the body.

Treatment for hospital-acquired infections depends on what kind of infection it is and how serious it is. “Usually, doctors give antibiotics if the infection is caused by bacteria. They may do tests to see which antibiotics will work best. For infections caused by viruses or fungi, doctors prescribe specific antiviral or antifungal medications. Sometimes, surgery is needed to remove infected tissue or drain pus,” explains Dr Rajamanya.

Patients might also be given supportive care in the form of pain relief, water transferred into the bloodstream with a needle to avoid sepsis caused by dehydration, or other common aids to overcome shock. Infections are also stopped from spreading further by isolating infected patients, improving cleaning standards and closing wards to new patients until they are fully healthy