The human body is capable of extraordinary things, especially the immune system. While healthy people can fight off many infections, a weakened immune system can lead to much more serious repercussions for patients. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study of acute care hospitals found “on any given day, about 1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection.” These healthcare-associated infections or HAIs arise in over 700,000 patients each year and are responsible for approximately 75,000 annual patient deaths. This study did not include infections received from doctors’ offices, clinics, labs, imaging facilities, and other healthcare providers.
What is truly tragic is that most of these infections are preventable and often occur due to a lack of properly maintained medical facilities and/or equipment. This can include anything from dirty equipment, to unchanged bed sheets, unsterilized or reused syringes, and doctors not washing their hands in between patients.
How Patients Contract Healthcare-Associated Infections
Patients seek medical care for a variety of reasons, and regardless of the reason for a hospital visit, all patients are susceptible to infection if a healthcare facility is operating in violation of state and federal safety standards, including those involving and sanitation. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for a patient to receive treatment for an ailment only to later fall ill from being exposed to bacteria and germs while receiving care. This applies to patients who seek medical treatment or have extended stays in long-term care at nursing homes, emergency rooms, hospitals, and clinics. These facilities are required to provide a sanitary environment as well as administer quality care to patients in a manner that does not cause them further harm and/or inflict additional injuries or pain. When facilities fail to do this, patients (many of whom have underlying health conditions or are immunocompromised) are at a greater risk of contracting an infection that not only inhibits their initial recovery but also puts them at greater risk for additional life-altering medical consequences.
Common Hospital Infections
While some infections are mild and can be treated with over the counter medicine, others are far more severe. Hospital-acquired infections can often be fatal due to the severity and aggressive nature of bacteria and viruses that incubate in healthcare facilities. These infections can lead to catastrophic injury and death if left untreated or misdiagnosed. Some of the most common hospital-acquired infections include:
Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSIs)
A central line is a catheter physicians place into a large vein in either a patient’s neck, chest, or groin area to provide medication, fluids, and collect blood for testing. Given the placement and sensitive nature of a central line, an infection can quickly become deadly for patients. Bacteria cause infections to enter the bloodstream through the central line. Infections are preventable when:
- The central line is placed correctly
- The central line is removed in a timely manner
- The patient’s skin is properly cleaned and sanitized prior to, during, and after central line removal
- Proper hand hygiene is practiced by all physicians, nurses, and healthcare staff members
- Sterile personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, masks, and more) is used
Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI)
Urinary tract infections refer to any infection that involves the urinary system, including the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common type of HAI; according to the National Healthcare Safety Network, around 75% of all UTIs are contracted from a urinary catheter. Given the commonality of receiving a urinary catheter – 15-25% of hospitalized patients receive one – this statistic is particularly alarming. Sadly, even common patient care procedures can be easily mishandled or neglected by healthcare staff. Urinary catheters can become a source of infection that can spread throughout the urinary system due to the improper hand hygiene of healthcare providers, neglect causing a catheter to be left in a patient for too long, and inadequate hygiene (regular baths, removal of waste collectors).
Surgical Site Infection (SSI)
Every surgery performed on a patient – regardless of its severity – is a serious event that requires all healthcare professionals involved to strictly adhere to medical safety and hygiene standards. Surgical patients are not only susceptible to surgical errors, but they are at grave risk for contracting an infection in the operating room. Surgical site infections occur at the area of the body that underwent surgery. Surgical site infections can manifest superficially (on the skin) or worse, attack body tissues and organs. For this reason, preoperative preparation is crucial to patient safety. Surgeons and operating room staff are required to ensure proper hand hygiene, all surgical instruments are sanitized, clean personal protective equipment is worn by all, and prep patients by cleaning the skin, sanitizing, and removing hair near the surgical site.
Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP)
Ventilator-associated pneumonia is an infection that occurs in the lungs due to the use of a ventilator. Patients who are put on ventilators require an oxygen tube to be placed in either their mouth, nose or through a hole in their neck. Oxygen tubes depend on thorough sanitization, proper administration, and timely removal to avoid infection. When a patient requires the use of a ventilator to breathe, a lung infection can be fatal.
Severe Forms of Hospital Infections
Because hospitals house sick patients, these facilities are also home to rare bacteria with which people would not normally come into contact. Some of the more uncommon infections patients can acquire in hospitals include:
- HIV/AIDS is often found at facilities that treat STDs
- Meningitis affects the spine and brain
- Toxemia causes a release of bacterial toxins within the bloodstream
- Influenza in any form can be problematic, but some cases can be deadly
- When staphylococcus aureus or staph infection is left untreated, the infection enters the bloodstream, where it can be hazardous and can even cause death
- Clostridium difficile colitis results from disruption of normal healthy bacteria in the colon and/or can also be transmitted from person to person by spores. It can cause severe damage to the colon and even be fatal.
- Hospital-acquired pneumonia refers to any pneumonia contracted by a patient in a hospital at least 48–72 hours after being admitted that is usually caused by a bacterial infection, rather than a virus.
- Enterobacteriaceae are a large family of different types of germs (bacteria) that commonly cause infections in healthcare settings. Escherichia coli or E. coli can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.
Philadelphia Hospital-Acquired Infections Lawyers
Patients seeking medical attention have enough on their plate to worry over besides whether or not healthcare providers have failed to wash their hands. Hospital-acquired infections are serious but largely preventable illnesses. If you or a loved one received medical care in Philadelphia and contracted a hospital-acquired infection, contact the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP now for a free case consultation. There is limited time to act following your injury, so don’t delay.