Health care acquired infections have been caught when a patient is receiving care in a hospital (or other venue) for an unrelated health issue and they have picked up an infection such as MRSA or Clostridium difficile.
The commonest types of infection are urinary tract infections, chest infections and surgical wound infections.
Most healthcare acquired infections occur in hospitals and it’s been estimated that at any given time 9% of all hospital patients have caught an infection while in hospital.
Any healthcare procedure, especially if it involves puncturing the skin (for an injection) or inserting a device (like a catheter) can pose a risk of infection regardless of where it takes place.
What role does public health play in healthcare associated infections?
The role of Public Health is to review and, where appropriate, challenge the systems currently in place to control health care acquired infections in order to identify potential risks.
We also ensure that any incidents of health care acquired infections are thoroughly investigated in order to help reduce the risk of any future cases.
What are the most common healthcare associated infections?
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a common bacterium carried by around 1 in 3 healthy people, usually on their skin or in the nose. In most cases, it’s not harmful for healthy people to carry MRSA. However, hospital patients are ill and so it can be dangerous if it enters their bloodstream.
Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that can survive and grow without oxygen. It is present as one of the ‘normal’ bacteria in the gut in up to 3% of healthy adults. Clostridium difficile, known as C diff, can cause diarrhoea when certain antibiotics disturb the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Glycopeptide-resistant Enterococci (GRE) are bacteria commonly found in the bowels of most people. There are many different species of enterococci, but only a few have the potential to cause infections in humans.
Why are healthcare associated infections a problem?
They directly affect the patient and can lead to pain, disability or, in very serious cases, death.
The cost to the NHS of health care acquired infections is estimated to be around £1 billion per year.
Infections also impact on the health service because of the extended lengths of stay of affected patients, the costs of diagnosis and treatment of the infections and their complications and the costs of specific infection control measures.
Antibiotic costs may be further increased if the infection is also due to a resistant micro-organism, as it is more expensive to treat these types of infection.
Are healthcare associated infections preventable?
Not all healthcare associated infections can be prevented. However, it has been estimated that around 15 per cent to 30 per cent could be avoided through better prevention and control as well as better use of existing knowledge and good practice.
One of the most important ways to prevent an infection is washing your hands before and after any contact with a patient.