Nosocomial infections, also called hospital or healthcare acquired illnesses (HAI), are a serious problem. They’re one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a non-profit organization founded by a former Lt. Governor of New York State, hospital infections kill more Americans each year than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.
Indiana medical malpractice attorney Mike Stephenson has been successfully litigating personal injury cases since 1982. If you or someone you love has acquired an infection in a healthcare setting or has succumbed to an illness caused by the negligence of a hospital, call Mike at 855-206-2555 for a free evaluation of your situation and your potential for receiving compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.
How common are hospital acquired illnesses?
One out of every 20 patients suffers a hospital acquired infection. You can be stricken with this type of complication in any number of healthcare settings — a hospital, outpatient surgery center, urgent treatment clinic, dialysis facility, nursing home, or rehab center. You can also come down with the infection once you have checked out and are recuperating at home.
According to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are more than 1.7 million healthcare associated infections in the U.S. each year, costing the country from $35 billion to $45 billion.
Risk Factors for an HAI
As you would expect, children, the elderly and those who have weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing a hospital acquired illness. Certain medical devices and procedures carry a higher risk of infecting patients. Additionally, healthcare settings that do not follow established protocol to protect patients from contamination or the transmission of disease are danger zones for those whose health is already compromised.
Types of Healthcare Acquired Infections
HAI refers to any clinically diagnosed infection associated with healthcare delivery that was not related to the condition that brought the patient to seek treatment in the first place. There are four major types of HAIs related to invasive or surgical procedures:
- Surgical site infection (SSI)
- Central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI)
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI)
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP).
Surgical site infections account for 17% of all hospital acquired infections each year in the U.S., affecting approximately 291,000 patients. They can result from unclean operating instruments or an unsterile environment. Infection can also occur from the implantation of medical devices such as knee or hip replacements. The risk of surgical site infection varies according to the location; colon surgery carries the highest risk, followed by vascular surgery (arteries and veins), gallbladder surgery, and organ transplant.
Central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) affect 92,011 patients in the U.S. each year. This type of infection occurs when a specialized catheter is inserted in a major vein in the neck, chest or groin for the administration of medications and fluids or access for dialysis. Contamination can occur if the surrounding skin is not properly cleaned and organisms travel along the catheter. It can also be caused by health care personnel who have hand contact with any of the central line’s parts or solutions.
Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI) are the most common type of healthcare associated infection, sickening 449,334 people in the U.S. annually. A CAUTI occurs when an indwelling urinary catheter causes an infection of the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys. Up to 25% of hospital patients receive a urinary catheter during their stay. The longer the catheter is in place, the more likely the patient is to develop a CAUTI. If they are not properly inserted and maintained, a pathogen such as E. coli can colonize in the urinary tract, causing pain and even death; each year, more than 13,000 deaths are associated with UTIs, according to the CDC.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) strikes 52,543 American patients each year, accounting for 15% of the hospital acquired illnesses but the majority of HAI deaths. Critically ill patients are sometimes put on mechanical ventilation through an endotracheal tube or tracheostomy. The lower respiratory tract can be invaded by bacterial, fungal or viral pathogens that are aspirated, or inhaled, into the lungs. Inadequate hand hygiene and unclean ventilator equipment are two of the causes, as are failure of staff to frequently change the patient’s position in bed.
Other Dangerous Infections
Staph infections are caused by the common staphylococcus aureus germ found on the skin of most people. They’re usually treated with antibiotics. However, some staph infections are resistant to antibiotics, and they’re known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. People who are already sick are especially at risk for MRSA. It can be passed on bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures and equipment. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers can spread it with their hands if they do not use sufficient precautions.
Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) is a bacterium that is related to the bacteria that cause tetanus and botulism. It can be found on bedpans, furniture, linens, stethoscopes, fingernails, and floors. After a stay of only two days in a hospital, 10% of patients will develop a C. diff. infection. It causes inflammation of the colon, fever, pain and severe diarrhea and kills 14,000 Americans each year.
Inadequate cleaning techniques, contamination of thermometers, use of telephones or pagers during patient care, and failure to isolate infected patients can all contribute to the spread of Clostridium difficile bacteria.
Healthcare Associated Infections in Indiana
Indiana is one of many states which require hospitals to report data about healthcare infections to the state Department of Health. In 2012, Indiana hospitals reported the following:
- 277 central line associated bloodstream infections
- 542 catheter associated urinary tract infections
- 233 surgical site infections from colon surgeries
- 40 surgical site infections from abdominal hysterectomies.