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Understanding and Controlling Nosocomial Infections

Healthcare-Acquired Infections controlA “nosocomial infection” is another term for a healthcare-acquired infection (HAI). These describe any disease that a patient contracts from a healthcare setting like a hospital or nursing home. To count as an HAI, the patient has to have been admitted for reasons other than the developed infection and also can’t have been showing signs of an active or incubating infection at the time. Additionally, the infection has to occur under one of the following conditions:

-Up to 3 days after being discharged.
-Up to 30 days following an operation.
-In a healthcare facility where the patient was admitted for a reason unrelated to the infection.

Every year, nosocomial infections affect over 220,000 Canadians.

Types of Healthcare-Acquired Infections

Strictly speaking, any form of pathogen can become an HAI incident but healthcare settings tend to produce certain types of infections more than others. Specifically, infections affecting surgical wounds, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the bloodstream are the types most likely to result from a healthcare setting. Within these categories are a few common culprits.

Gram-Negative Bacteria

This is a category of bacteria that is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. It includes bacteria like E. coli and pseudomonas. These bacteria can swarm surgical sites and cause infections in the wound. If they infect the brain and spinal cord, they can cause meningitis; when they hit the lungs, they can cause pneumonia. And those are just some of the ways they create problems that add up to a bad day for everyone involved.

MRSA

An annoyingly resistant strain of staph bacteria, MRSA commonly hits people who have broken skin due to undergoing invasive procedures or having inbound devices like IV tubes. These openings allow the bacteria to enter and it can cause deep abscesses, swollen skin, and potentially fatal septic shock.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

UTIs are one of the most common healthcare-acquired infections and are often caused due to the prolonged use of a urinary catheter. Few people like getting a urinary catheter put in and even fewer like getting a UTI from pathogens clinging to the equipment.

C. Difficile

This is a common cause of gastrointestinal-related HAIs. The bacteria’s spores are quite hardy and can wait around for up to 70 days before infecting someone. It is most detrimental to people—especially the elderly—who are receiving antibiotics.

Causes of Healthcare-Acquired Infections

Although it is possible to contract any of the above outside a healthcare setting, hospitals and similar facilities present a unique combination of factors that regrettably make such infections more likely.

Increased Vulnerability

Patients are already dealing with the problems that landed them in hospital in the first place. Their bodies are more vulnerable to opportunistic infections that would otherwise be harmless or which could be fought off, such as certain forms of staph.

Avenues of Infection

In addition to potentially weakened immune systems, hospital patients are more likely to have open wounds, invasive devices, tests, or monitoring equipment, and other sources of bacterial transmission that aren’t as common elsewhere. It is also possible for diseases to be caught from other patients.

Antibiotic Resistance

Hospitals and other healthcare settings regularly sanitize surfaces and make use of antibiotics in doing this. Unfortunately, this results in an increased likelihood of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerging and making a patient sick.

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Michelle Berelowitz

Michelle Berelowitz has 15+ years commercializing technology start-ups in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor with strong strategic, operational and management skills within both publicly traded and technology based start-up companies. Michelle has a background in manufacturing, ICT and biotech combined with degrees in political science, finance &strategic management and Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo.