Every year, approximately 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections occur in American hospitals. Shockingly, these same infections (HAIs) cause an estimated 99,000 deaths each year in the United States alone, stressing the importance of proper decontamination and infection control processes which directly affect patient safety.  

HAIs are believed to cost hospitals, long-term care facilities, physical therapy centers, and other healthcare facilities between $28.4 and $33.8 billion annually, according to a 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control. These staggering statistics should concern infection preventionists, as they are tasked with establishing and enforcing protocols to prevent, reduce and eradicate the possibilities of healthcare-associated infections.

HEALTHCARE-ASSOCIATED INFECTION DEFINITION

A healthcare-associated infection (HAI) is an infection that patients get while receiving treatment or care for medical and surgical conditions by physicians and medical staff. Infections are caused by bacterial, viral or fungal pathogens that cause a range of potentially life-threatening illnesses.

HAIs occur in all types of care settings including outpatient care facilities, long-term care facilities, and surgical centers. It’s been stated that most healthcare-associated infections are preventable. 

HEALTHCARE-ASSOCIATED INFECTIONS EXAMPLES

 

There are several types of HAIs patients are at risk of contracting. A few are listed below:

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI): Caused by pathogens entering urinary tracts via catheters. This can happen during insertion, removal, or while the catheter is in the body.

Surgical site infections (SSI): Typically happens post-surgery where the surgery took place (arm, leg, chest, etc.). Surgical site infections can happen if bacteria gets into cuts, wounds, the skin, and open sores.

Bloodstream infections: Also known as blood poisoning, bloodstream infections happen when a bacterial infection located elsewhere in the body enters the bloodstream.

MRSA and Staph are two of the most commonly reported HAIs in medical facilities. Both infections are known to survive for days until killed by an EPA registered disinfectant. Pneumonia is another illness that is a frequently contracted HAI, and it can survive for up to 24 hours.

HOW PATIENTS GET HAIS 

There are a number of ways an individual can contract an HAI during their hospital stay. Something as simple as shaking hands with another patient or a physician can transfer pathogens, as 80% of common infections are known to spread by dirty hands. Someone coughing or sneezing can also send bacteria and viruses into the air, causing them to be ingested by an unsuspecting victim. Unsterilized instruments can also transmit germs.

However, contaminated surfaces are also responsible for spreading healthcare-associated infections. When commonly touched and shared surfaces are not properly disinfected to kill pathogens, this allows disease-causing pathogens to run rampant.

Although bacteria and viruses can live on any surface in medical and healthcare facilities, there are some surfaces that tend to contain higher contamination levels than others. What are the top surfaces responsible for spreading healthcare-associated infections? Read below to discover what they are!


5 SURFACES THAT SPREAD HAIS


1. Bed Rails

 

Patients are 583% more likely to acquire an infection in a hospital bed if a previous patient using the same bed had an infection. Although linens and sheets are regularly changed in an effort to prevent the transmission of infections, bed rails are often overlooked.

Unless well-sterilized, pathogens can remain on the surface of bed rails long after an infected patient has been discharged. In fact, when it comes to the transmission of HAIs, bedrails have stood out as the surface most likely to transmit an infection. In order to avoid this, healthcare workers should make disinfecting bed rails and handrails a priority. Using a disinfectant wipe can make cleaning bed rails simple and effective.



2. Electronic Medical Equipment – Tablets, Computers, Keyboards, Smart Phones, Computer Screens

Electronic medical equipment rank as a high-risk surface for transmitting healthcare-associated infections. Computers, cell phones, keyboards, and tablets are used and shared regularly, but they are seldom decontaminated. These items are used in examining rooms during appointments with patients who may be sick, making them a magnet for pathogens.

Blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, and other medical tools are disinfected, but electronics are not held to the same strict protocols. A study found that more than half of clinical personnel say they use a phone or tablet on the job.

However, 90% of health care personnel admit to never cleaning their devices. It’s important to educate health care personnel on the dangers of using contaminated devices in sterile environments and the role they play in increasing or reducing HAIs.


3. Floors

 

Since floors are considered a high-traffic surface, they are capable of harboring an alarming number of pathogens. Researchers sampled bacteria from 318 floors in five hospitals and discovered that floors were often contaminated with C. diff, VRE, and MRSA, among other diseases.

Germs fall onto floors from shoes, medical carts, clothing, and other objects. If something is dropped and picked up or has direct contact with the floor, bacteria and viruses can then be transferred to the object and lead to an HAI.

In some healthcare facilities, floors are not cleaned nearly as often as they should. In fact, many don’t think floor cleaning is a high priority, unaware of the risks associated with dirty floors.



4. Hands

 

According to the CDC, hand hygiene is one of the most crucial components to keeping a hospital free from infection. Healthcare personnel touch many things throughout the day, including patients, personal items, and medical tools and instruments.

If a physician or provider failed to wash their hands before surgery or an appointment, it could result in an HAI caused by germs that were not killed by hand washing. Throughout a healthcare provider’s 12-hour shift, it may be necessary to wash one’s hands dozens of times to keep bacterial threats at bay.

It’s best practice to wash hands before and after meeting with patients, surgeries, appointments, eating, breaks, and shifts. Using hand sanitizer to supplement hand washing can add additional protection from germs.


5. Door Handles and Light Switches

 
Keeping a sterilized environment for staff and patients requires careful attention to all potentially-contaminated surfaces. This includes simple objects such as door handles and light switches.

Door handles contain an average of 112.7 colony-forming units of bacteria, and light switches have been found to be one of the most contaminated surfaces in a hospital. Yet despite these facts, these items are often ignored and unnoticed.

On any given day, light switches and door handles can be touched by more than a dozen times by a wide range of people – physicians, patients, janitors, etc. The high degree of traffic each might experience should provide a strong reminder for sanitizing and disinfecting. 


PREVENTING HEALTHCARE-ASSOCIATED INFECTIONS 

The battle to keep your hospital clean and sanitary requires a collective effort from everyone in your facility, not just the cleaning crew. Nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and even patients are accountable for preventing the spread of bacteria and germs that can cause healthcare-associated infections.

Establish and enforce strict protocols that include handwashing and surface sanitizing and disinfecting frequency. Explain to staff members when they should do each, such as before an appointment with a patient, after touching their phone, after completing a surgery, and other scenarios.

Encourage patients to also practice good hygiene by posting tips in examining rooms or giving handouts at appointments. You can also make cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting easy by having simple, easy-to-use and accessible products. Consider mounting hand sanitizer dispensers, having wipes available in each room, and stands conveniently placed throughout your facility.