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For the Public
Frequently asked questions about HAIs

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What is a healthcare-associated infection (HAI)?

A healthcare-associated infection, or HAI, is an infection that a patient gets while having healthcare for another reason. HAIs can happen in any part of the body, including urine, lungs, blood, wounds, and the gut. HAIs can be acquired in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient dialysis centers, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.

Some examples of HAIs are Clostridium difficile, diarrhea caused by antibiotics, surgical site infections, and urinary tract infections associated with catheters. Certain necessary treatments (including antibiotics, chemotherapy, surgery, and catheters) can make patients more vulnerable to germs that cause these infections. Infections can be transmitted by hands or medical equipment that has not been properly cleaned.


Why should I be concerned about HAIs?

Healthcare-associated infections can lead to the need for stronger or more antibiotics, more treatments, more days in the hospital, more cost for the patient and the hospital, and even severe complications or death. Infection preventionists in healthcare systems are always on the lookout for ways to prevent HAIs. Simple and effective ways to prevent HAIs include excellent hand hygiene, safe injection practices, effective disinfection procedures of medical equipment and rooms, and useful infection control policies.


What information can I use to evaluate hospital safety?

Below we provide some federal and state resources that can help you evaluate how hospitals are performing in relation to HAIs.

  • Hospital Compare
    Medicare.gov publishes a useful online tool called Hospital Compare. With this tool, you can compare hospitals in your region and browse topic areas such as patients’ experiences, timely and effective care and Medicare payment.

    Visit Hospital Compare (www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html).
    Instructions: Enter your location, click “Search,” and a list of hospitals will appear. Select the hospitals you would like to compare, click “Compare Now.” HAI information is found under “Readmissions, complications and death.”
  • Oregon Healthcare-Acquired Infections Annual Report and Interactive Maps
    The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) publishes an annual report on HAIs in Oregon. This report contains some of the same information as Hospital Compare, but is centered on Oregon-specific requirements. The OHA HAI report spans more years of continuous data, uses more specific data (e.g., Standardized Infection Ratios, or SIR), and presents more detailed information on different types of surgical site infections. Read the current Oregon HAI report.

What can I do as a patient to prevent healthcare-associated infections?

Your priority is to get well, but here are a few things that you and your caregivers can do to make your interactions with healthcare as safe as possible:

  1. Speak up.
    Talk to your doctor about any worries you have about your safety and ask what they are doing to protect you. 
  2. Keep hands clean.
    If you do not see your providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so. Also remind your loved ones and visitors. Washing hands can prevent the spread of germs. 
  3. Ask if you still need a central line catheter or urinary catheter. 
    Leaving a catheter in place too long increases the chances of getting an infection.
  4. Ask your healthcare provider questions.
    Will there be a new needle, new syringe, and a new vial for this procedure or injection? Healthcare providers should never reuse a needle or syringe on more than one patient.
  5. Be careful with medications.
    Avoid taking too much medicine by following package directions. To avoid harmful drug interactions, tell your doctor about ALL the medicines you are taking.
  6. Get smart about antibiotics.
    Help prevent antibiotic resistance by taking all your antibiotics as prescribed, and not sharing your antibiotics with other people. Remember that antibiotics don’t work against viruses like the ones that cause the common cold. Learn more about safe antibiotic use.
  7. Prepare for surgery.
    There are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a surgical site infection. Talk to your doctor to learn what you should do to prepare for surgery. Let your doctor know about other medical problems you have.
  8. Watch out for Clostridium difficile (aka, C. diff).
    Tell your doctor if you have severe diarrhea, especially if you are also taking an antibiotic.
  9. Know the symptoms of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.
    Tell your doctor if you have redness, pain, fever, or catheter or surgical incision drainage.
  10. Get your flu shot.
    Protect yourself against the flu and other complications by getting vaccinated. Learn more about flu prevention.
  11. Source:  Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 10 Ways to be a Safe Patient

What are some common HAIs?
HAIs are caused by a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and are often associated with medical devices. Some of the bacteria are multidrug-resistant organisms (MDRO).
 
Many HAIs cause significant illness or death, particularly among immunocompromised, elderly, or vulnerable populations. Oregon Public Health is working with healthcare facilities to improve patient safety by improving infection prevention knowledge and practice. Learn more about HAIs.
 
Common HAIs include:
 
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
  • Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
  • Candidemia
  • Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)

What is OHA doing to prevent HAIs?

OHA has an HAI team in the Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention section dedicated to detecting and preventing the spread of HAIs and multidrug-resistant organisms. Learn more about HAI prevention.