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An Unresolved Challenge: Controlling Healthcare-Associated Infections


By HolaDoctor

Key Points

  • Modern technology can "open" doors to germs.
  • They can cause central line-associated bloodstream infections.
  • Also catheter associated urinary track infections, and ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Healthcare-associated infections, also called intra-hospital or nosocomial infections, are defined as infections contracted by the patient while being treated in a hospital setting.

Modern healthcare uses technology—invasive devices and procedures—to treat patients and help them recover. However, these devices can “open” doors to germs, causing central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and ventilator-associated pneumonia.

These germs, usually bacteria that arise in hospital settings, become very strong and end up becoming resistant to antibiotics, which makes it very difficult to treat them.

The most common bacterium is staphylococcus aureus (staphylococcus), which 30% of people normally carry in their noses without causing any harm. But this bacterium can cause serious and even fatal infections in hospital settings.  

Anyone can develop a staphylococcal infection, although certain groups of people are at higher risk: those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, vascular disease, eczema, and lung disease, as well as injection drug users.

At healthcare facilities, there is a greater risk of a more serious staph infection because many patients have weakened immune systems or have undergone procedures. This risk of infection is even greater for people in intensive care units, since they have more devices inserted into or connected to their bodies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first report on healthcare-associated infections in 1975. Today, at any given time, 1 out of every 31 hospitalized patients in the United States has developed an infection associated with their care at a healthcare facility. These infections cause tens of thousands of deaths and cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year.

A study carried out in 12 Latin American countries (in 198 intensive care units at 96 hospitals in 46 cities) by the International Nosocomial Infection Control Consortium (INICC) collected 25 years of data and found a high mortality rate for these infections in the region.

According to this study, from 1998 to 2022, 71,685 patients, followed during 652,167 patient-days (the total number of days a patient remains hospitalized, according to the daily patient census), acquired 4,700 healthcare-associated infections and 10,890 died.

The CDC is promoting a manual with a set of recommendations to improve the control of these infections.

The measures that can be implemented by a healthcare facility to reduce the risk of these dangerous infections include:

  • Implementation of infection control protocols to reduce exogenous (person-to-person) and endogenous (through the use of devices) transmission in healthcare facilities.
  • Frequent hand hygiene is the most important preventive measure to limit the spread of pathogens.
  • Compliance with protocols if the patient needs isolation.
  • Proper use of personal protective equipment.
  • Avoiding the unnecessary use of devices and removing them as soon as advisable.
  • Practicing proper aseptic and/or sterile techniques during insertion and maintenance of devices.
  • Routine disinfection of surfaces, patient equipment, and medical devices.
  • Appropriate waste management.
  • Avoiding excessive and inappropriate use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, which promote bacterial resistance.

From 2021 to 2026, the CDC, together with 11 healthcare facilities, has been carrying out a research program to generate greater knowledge about healthcare-associated infections and to implement effective preventive measures to stop this form of infections. This program could be replicated in Latin America.

This story was produced using content from original studies and reports and from other medical research, as well as healthcare and public health sources, highlighted in related links throughout the article.