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More About HAIs

What are HAIs?

HAI stands for healthcare-associated infection. HAIs are infections that patients can get in a healthcare setting while receiving treatment or care for something else. These infections are not limited to hospitals. They can also occur in outpatient clinics, dialysis centers, long-term care facilities, and doctor’s offices. Any time spent in a healthcare setting can put patients at risk for an HAI.  These infections can be deadly and cost the healthcare system billions of dollars annually, yet are often preventable.

Infections can develop when infection-causing germs enter a patient’s body. In the healthcare setting, there are increased sources of germs, including other patients, unclean hands of healthcare personnel, or medical devices and equipment that haven’t been properly disinfected. While modern advances in healthcare have improved patient outcomes, there can be increased risk of infection. For example, procedures such as surgery, or healthcare devices such as catheters or ventilators can be associated with HAIs. Infections can also spread between healthcare facilities as patients are transferred from one facility to another as part of their care. 

Common HAIs

The most common infections associated with healthcare include:

  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI): A urinary catheter is a tube which is inserted into the bladder to drain urine. A  CAUTI occurs if germs enter the tubing and make their way into the bladder or kidneys, and cause an infection. For more information, see: CAUTIs

  • Surgical Site Infection (SSI): An SSI can occur after a surgery if bacteria enter the part of the body where the surgery took place. Sometimes, these germs may move to other sites and cause infections in the urine, blood or lungs. For more information, see: SSI
  • Central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI): A central line is a tube that doctors place in a large vein in the neck, chest or groin for a long period of time to give medication or fluids to a patient or to collect blood for tests. You can think of a central line as a special type of intravenous catheter (IV). A CLABSI occurs when germs enter the bloodstream through the central line.  For more information, see: CLABSIs
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP): A ventilator is a machine that helps patients breathe by providing oxygen through a tube placed in the patient’s mouth, nose or neck. A patient on a ventilator can develop an infection if germs enter the lungs through the tube.  For more information, see: VAP

Antiobiotic-Resistance Threats

HAIs are increasingly caused by germs that are very hard to kill with antibiotics, making them difficult to treat. In the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a result of their infection1. The most common bacteria are:

  • Clostridium difficile infection (CDI): This bacterium causes severe diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as inflammation of the colon (colitis). The CDC estimates that in 2011, CDI caused almost half a million infections in the U.S., and was associated with approximately 29,000 deaths. Overuse of antibiotics is the most important risk factor for getting CDI. For more information, see: CDI
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE): Enterobacteriaceae are bacteria that are normally found in the human intestine. CRE can cause illness when they spread outside the intestine, which is more likely to happen to patients in a healthcare settings who are being treated for another condition. These germs can become very difficult, and sometimes impossible to kill with carbapenems and other antibiotics, making them tough or impossible to treat and sometimes deadly. For more information, see: CRE 

For more information on what you can do to be a safe patient, click here.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Antimicrobial Resistance Threat Report. 2013.