Healthcare Acquired Infections (HAIs): What’s in the air?

When a person catches an illness in the hospital or other healthcare facility, it is called a healthcare-acquired infection (HAI), also known as a nosocomial infection or hospital-acquired infection. These infections take a toll on patients, healthcare workers, caretakers, and health systems at large.



“Results from studies clearly indicate that, each year, hundreds of millions of patients are affected by healthcare-associated infections around the world.”


The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that most countries do not have systems to document HAIs. Many nations with HAI surveillance systems struggle to keep accurate data due to the complexity and lack of standardized criteria for diagnosing HAIs. While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number, “results from studies clearly indicate that, each year, hundreds of millions of patients are affected by healthcare-associated infections around the world.”(1)


HAIs happen far more often in developed nations than most would like to admit.


HAIs happen far more often in developed nations than most would like to admit. For example, about 1.7 million Americans (one in ten patients) are infected in U.S. hospitals every year. Almost 100,000 of them die.(2) In Canada, 220,000 HAIs occur (one in eight) every year and about 8,000 of those people die.(3) It’s estimated that 2.6 million people in the European Union (EU) are affected by HAIs every year, resulting in at least 90,000 deaths.(4) There is limited public information for China.(5) New Zealand isn't exempt from this problem a recent study also concluded that 10% of inpatients will develop HAIs with an annual cost of between $50 and $85 million.(20)


Multi-drug resistant bacteria: “Superbugs” A growing body of evidence suggests that drug-resistant superbugs, which some scientists are calling "nightmare bacteria," are spreading more quickly inside U.S. hospitals than previously thought.(6)


A growing body of evidence suggests that drug-resistant superbugs, which some scientists are calling "nightmare bacteria," are spreading more quickly inside U.S. hospitals than previously thought.


When they're not drug-resistant, most bacterial infections can easily be treated with antibiotics. However, antibiotic resistance of strains within families of bacteria is a concern. Other multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria known to cause hospital acquired infections include:


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): This bacteria is resistant to many antibiotics and can cause a range of health issues from skin infections to sepsis, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections.(7)


Carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP): Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) is a bacteria commonly found in the human intestines. It does not cause health problems until a person is exposed to it outside of the intestinal tract. For infection to occur, K. pneumoniae must enter the respiratory tract to cause pneumonia or the blood to cause a bloodstream infection. Healthy people rarely get K. pneumoniae infections. Carbapenems are a class of antibiotics usually used as a last line of defense against certain bacterial infections (gram-negative) that are resistant to other antibiotics. This makes the development of CRKP especially concerning.(8)


MDR Pseudomonas aeruginosa: This bacterium primarily infects patients with a severe lung disease. It most often causes infections in people with cystic fibrosis (CF). P. aeruginosa infections in non-CF patients are most common in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).(9)


MDR tuberculosis (TB): MDR-TB is a TB infection by tuberculosis-causing bacteria that are resistant to treatment with at least isoniazid and rifampicin, two of the most powerful anti-TB drugs.(10)


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