A hospital-acquired infection, also known as a HAI, is an infection whose development is favored by a hospital environment, such as one acquired by a patient during a hospital visit or one developing among hospital staff. Such infections include fungal and bacterial infections and are aggravated by the reduced resistance of individual patients.
As a general timeline, infections occurring more than 48 hours after admission are usually considered HAI. These infections are also divided into two classes, endemic or epidemic. Most are endemic, meaning that they are at the level of usual occurrence within the setting. Epidemic infections occur when there is an unusual increase in infection above baseline for a specific infection or organism. HAI occur worldwide, both in the developed and developing world. They are a significant burden to patients and public health. They are a major cause of death and increased morbidity in hospitalized patients. They may cause increased functional disability and emotional stress and may lead to conditions that reduce quality of life. Not only do they affect the general health of patients, but they are also a huge burden financially. The greatest contributors to these costs are the increased stays that patients with these infections require. The increased length of stay varies from 3 days for gynecological procedures to 19.8 days for orthopedic procedures. Other costs include additional drugs, the need for isolation, and the use of additional studies. There are also indirect costs due to loss of work.
Organisms causing hospital infections in India are similar to those around the world, with S. aureus and P. aeruginosa among the most common disease-causing pathogens. Research on hospital infections in India reveals several concerning trends. In Indian ICUs, the rate of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), a dangerous hospital infection, is five times the rate in the rest of the world. Rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Indian ICUs are also high, with one study finding over 80 per cent of S. aureus samples testing positive for resistance to methicillin and closely related antibiotics.
A large proportion of these hospital infections are easily preventable with increased hospital infection control, including stepping up hygiene practices, such as frequent hand-washing. In India, however, hospitals often do not follow infection control practices, and this leads to the spread of disease. In response to the growing burden of HAIs in India, both the national and international committees on HAI are issuing several key recommendations that aim at reducing the prevalence of HAIs, including increased hand-washing, use of isolation rooms for infected patients, increased availability and uptake of diagnostic tests, reminders to limit catheter use, and use of gloves and gowns. The ministry of health and family welfare task force also recommends that all hospitals create an infection control plan, committee and team. The prevention efforts by them can represent thousands of lives saved, prevented patient harm, and the associated reduction in costs across our country.