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The Focus on Hospital Acquired Infections

Jeff Gutkowski

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, 722,000 patients contracted infections while staying in U.S. hospitals, resulting in 75,000 patient deaths. The CDC and Pennsylvania’s Patient Safety Authority agree that Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI’s) are a substantial and often PREVENTABLE threat to patient health and safety. Research shows that when healthcare facilities, care teams and individual doctors and nurses are aware of infection problems and take specific steps to prevent them, rates of infection can decrease by as much as 70%! Over the past decade the CDC has focused significant efforts at controlling in-hospital exposure to healthcare acquired infections (HAI’s), with the ultimate goal of eradication.  A healthcare acquired infection is an infection which patients get while receiving medical treatment in a healthcare facility like a hospital or nursing home.   Recently, the CDC released the data it collected in 2014. The good news is that even when prevention efforts fail, as long as an infection is identified early and treated properly, the likelihood of successful treatment and long-term prognosis is excellent.

The CDC collects information about a variety of HAI’s, including Surgical Site Infections (SSI’s), Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI’s), Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections, MRSA infections and C.Diff Infections. Surgical Site infections (SSI’s) occur when germs get into an area where surgery is or was performed and affect skin and possibly organs. The CDC focuses its attention on preventable SSI’s, including those following abdominal surgeries like hysterectomy and colon surgeries.   A CLABSI occurs when a tube is placed in a large vein and either not put in properly or kept clean , which allows germs to enter the body and cause infection in the blood. Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections occur when a urinary catheter is not put in correctly, not kept clean or left in a patient too long, allowing germs to travel through the catheter and enter and infect the bladder and kidneys. For Pennsylvanians, the results are a mixed bag of excellent and needing improvement.

On the excellent side, the focus on developing and following rules and policies to minimize CLABSI’s and MRSA infections has resulted in a rates substantially lower than the national average.  And the news about CLABSI efforts gets better, with a 17% decrease in Pennsylvania hospitals between 2013 and 2014.

On the other hand, the CDC data reflects that Pennsylvania’s healthcare providers need to do more to minimize surgical site infections, and particularly infections from abdominal surgeries, when compared to the national average.  When it comes to protecting Pennsylvanians from SSI’s, there was no statistically significant improvement between 2013 and 2014, and the rate of infections from abdominal hysterectomy surged to 13% higher than the national average.  Hopefully, by enacting and following the same types of strong policies and rules, Pennsylvania’s heathcare providers can achieve the same success against SSI’s that they’ve had against CLABSI’s, when their patients are at their most vulnerable, in the hospital.