Going to the hospital can be nerve-wracking as it is, but getting sick in conjunction with already being treated for an injury or illness is an outcome no one wants. A Healthcare-Associated Infection, or HAI, is just that, contracting a secondary infection when the patient is hospitalized for something different. This is an unfortunate reality for many as the frequency of hospital visits increase due to viruses and injuries. The CDC found that roughly 1 in 25 hospital goers contract at least one HAI during their stay. These infections specifically affect blood/surgery sites and urinary tracts through various ways like tools that aren’t cleaned or used properly. Though these HAIs are preventable, they are becoming seemingly unavoidable as hospitals across the country fall victim to overcrowding, understaffing, and a large influx in patients as cold and flu season creeps closer. Understanding these infections and their control guidelines are the only ways to try and combat these additional sicknesses.
So, what exactly are HAIs? Through more invasive medical equipment such as ventilators and catheters, improper cleaning techniques cause harmful infections to spread from one person to another. A Catheter-associated UTI is the most preventable type of HAI despite the fact that 75% of UTIs that develop in hospital care are due to catheters in prolong use. A Central Line-associated bloodstream infection develops when a large tube attached to major veins in the neck, groin, or chest becomes contaminated, which results in thousands of deaths and billions in healthcare costs each year. A Surgical Site infection typically develops post-operation around the incision that can vary in severity depending on if skin, tissues, organs, or implants are affected. Lastly, there is a ventilator-associated pneumonia which occurs when germs in the ventilator are pumped into the airways of the patient relying on it to breathe.
Now that we better understand the infections that can occur, what can we do about it? The easiest answer is to follow guidelines, check the CDC website to find lists of recommended cleaning chemicals as well as steps to control hospital infections. With COVID variants and Monkeypox running amuck, it’s important to stay up to date on the most current procedures and practices. Staff should be keeping their hands clean with antimicrobial soap as well as wearing the appropriate PPE such as gloves, goggles, smocks, etc; especially in the operating room! Frequent replacing of medical equipment is a must. It isn’t enough to clean and sanitize catheters and ventilators between patients, but keeping the instruments clean during long-term use, which is what typically causes the infections. Lastly, encourage the people you’re interacting with to be safe patients, as the CDC has coined the term. Safe patients to their part to reduce the spread of HAIs by taking care of themselves; frequently washing their hands and being aware of the HAI warning signs when they are present, such as fever, swelling, and pain.
Nichols wants to remind everyone that staying healthy goes hand in hand with staying safe these days. Taking small steps like being on top of your hand washing doesn’t just protect you from getting sick, but also helps those around you stay in the clear by stopping germs in their tracks.