Health Care-Associated Infections

Health care-associated infections (HAIs) are infections people get while they are receiving health care for another condition. HAIs can happen in any health care facility, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, end-stage renal disease facilities, and long-term care facilities. HAIs can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, or other, less common pathogens.

HAIs are a significant cause of illness and death — and they can have devastating emotional, financial, and medical consequences. At any given time, about 1 in 25 inpatients have an infection related to hospital care. These infections lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives and cost the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year.

These factors raise the risk of HAIs:

  • Catheters (bloodstream, endotracheal, and urinary)
  • Surgery
  • Injections
  • Health care settings that aren’t properly cleaned and disinfected
  • Communicable diseases passing between patients and healthcare workers
  • Overuse or improper use of antibiotics

Common HAIs patients get in hospitals include:

  • Central-line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI)
  • Clostridium difficile infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections
  • Surgical site infections
  • Urinary tract infections

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI) are some of the most common HAIs.

HAIs and Antibiotic Resistance

As health care quality activities progress, it’s important to recognize how HAIs, antibiotic use, and antibiotic resistance are related. Prevention of HAIs leads to fewer illnesses requiring antibiotic treatment — and proper use of antibiotics slows the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms that can be difficult to treat.

Since the 1940s, antibiotics have greatly reduced illness and death — but using them also creates selective pressure that can lead to resistance. Widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics has accelerated the development of antibiotic-resistant organisms, making many antibiotics less effective.

Using antibiotics judiciously is essential if we are to slow the development of resistance and extend the useful lifetime of our most urgently needed antibiotics.

Antibiotic Stewardship

Antibiotic stewardship is among the most effective approaches to improving antibiotic use. Antibiotic stewardship can:

  • Optimize clinical outcomes
  • Minimize unintended consequences
  • Improve patient safety
  • Improve cost effectiveness reducing inappropriate antibiotic use

Antibiotic stewardship is important across the spectrum of health care.

Making the Connection

Focused HAI prevention activities and improved antibiotic use are synergistic. Addressing these challenges together can amplify the impact of efforts to slow the development of antibiotic resistance.

Partnering to Heal

This online video-simulation training program focuses on HAI prevention for clinicians, health professional students, and patient advocates. The training highlights effective communication practices and ideas for creating a culture of safety in healthcare institutions. Learn more about the training.

Partnering to Heal course

Improving Patient Safety

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had previously identified the reduction of HAIs as an Agency Priority Goal. HHS is now committed to reducing the national rate of HAIs by demonstrating significant, quantitative, and measurable reductions in CAUTI, CLABSI, Clostridium difficile, MRSA, and surgical site infections.

Find out more about the Department’s HAI reduction goals, including progress made.

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