By Hajime Kanamori, MD, PhD, MPH, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of North Carolinaunc-health-care

“You go to the hospital to get well, right? Of course, but did you know that patients can get infections in the hospital while they are being treated for something else?”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Infections which patients may get in the hospital during their stay are generally called healthcare-associated infections (HAI). A recent survey estimated that at least 1 HAI occurred in 4% of inpatients in U.S. acute care hospitals which resulted in an estimated 720,000 HAI in the U.S. HAI are still one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. HAI cost the U.S. more than $30 billion and in the state of North Carolina more than $100 million each year. At UNC Health Care, the Department of Hospital Epidemiology is working hard to reduce infections in our hospital and to prevent patients from being infected via other patients, healthcare personnel, or medical devices.

Hospital Epidemiology has conducted hospital-wide surveillance (i.e., seeking out all infections) since 1978 in order to monitor the trends of all HAI and facilitate infection prevention and control. Most hospitals do not conduct hospital-wide surveillance like UNC but rather only perform targeted surveillance focused on specific HAI at high-risk areas (e.g. intensive care units; ICU). Target surveillance takes less time and costs less money but misses many HAI.

Our hospital-wide surveillance detected over 16,000 HAI, including 6,000 cases in ICU and 10,000 outside of ICU during 2001-2012. In this study, we found that overall HAI was successfully reduced by 42% as a result of our infection control activities, estimating 700 overall HAI prevented, 40 lives saved, and costs saved of more than $10 million at UNC Hospitals over the last decade!

We will maintain hospital-wide surveillance and need to enforce infection prevention activities against HAI, particularly for Clostridium difficile infections.

This study was conducted entirely by members at Hospital Epidemiology at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

[Research Article]

Kanamori H, Weber DJ, DiBiase LM, Sickbert-Bennett EE, Brooks R, Teal L, Williams D, Walters EM, Rutala WA. Longitudinal trends in all healthcare-associated infections through comprehensive hospital-wide surveillance and infection control measures over the past 12 years: substantial burden of healthcare-associated infections outside of intensive care units and “other” types of infection. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2015;36(10):1139-47.


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