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Healthcare associated infections

Healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) can develop either as a direct result of healthcare interventions such as medical or surgical treatment, or from being in contact with a healthcare setting.

HCAI covers a wide range of infections, including those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficlle (C. difficile). Other more common types of HCAI are respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, sepsis, gastrointestinal infections and bloodstream infections.

HCAIs pose a serious risk to patients, staff and visitors, cause significant morbidity to those infected, and incur significant costs to healthcare providers.

The prevalence of HCAIs in hospitals in England alone in 2011 was 6.4%.

Prevention and control are fundamental to improve the quality and safety of care provided to patients.

In maternity services, women most at risk are those who have a caesarean section or other invasive procedure. It is therefore essential to practise aseptic non-touch techniques (ANTT) whenever a procedure that bypasses the body's natural defences (i.e. the skin or mucous membranes), for example, cannulation, venepuncture, administration of intravenous drugs, wound care, urinary catheterisation etc. Hand hygiene is the leading measure for reducing HCAIs.

Further reading

NICE (2011). Healthcare-associated infections: prevention and control. (PH36).

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