Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are diseases or illnesses that patients develop while in the care of a medical environment, such as a hospital and/or medical center. Around 1 out of every 25 patient in a medical environment will develop an HAI. Newborn infants in particular are at the highest risk, especially those who are sent to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infant death is commonly caused by healthcare-associated infections. The risk of developing an HAI increases in infants who are born prematurely and/or underweight, two of the leading reasons that babies end up in a hospital’s NICU. While in NICU, infants are at risk for a wide array of health risks that can compromise health, especially babies born preterm, since they have a lowered immune system. Frequent infections and illnesses that infants in NICU develop, include:
- Urinary tract infection
- Bloodstream infections (the leading HAI in newborns)
- Surgical site infections
- Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
- MRSA infections
Per NIH, closely monitoring infants in NICU at all times is extremely crucial. As a result, the federal government provides funding to hospitals to aid in the prevention of HAIs in NICUs. In fact, in 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) devised a program known as the HAI Action Plan, in which hospitals are given training and programs on how to reduce the exorbitant amount of infant HAI cases.
In 2011, HHS created another plan to help promote patient safety in over 2,000 participating hospitals in the United States. Known as the Partnerships for Patients, the program aims to not only make medical centers more safe, but to also create a more cost-effective environment by assisting patients in healing faster and better without additional complications, and striving to reduce the chances of patients getting more sick and/or injured during their stay at a hospital.
HHS still continues to implement goals and initiatives to help reduce healthcare-associated infections for all patients, including adults, children, and infants in hospitals. Current HHH initiatives include:
- Funding for state HAI programs
- Quality improvement programs
- Inpatient hospital stay improvements
- “Roadmap to Elimination” action plan to prevent HAIs
- Safety programs
- Ongoing maintenance and development of the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN)
In 2002 alone, NIH reports that there were 33,269 HAIs in United States NICUs. However, it’s not only infants in NICU who are at risk. In the same year, 19,059 babies in well-infant nurseries in the United States developed an HAI.
In addition, infants who are temporarily moved from NICU tend to have a slightly higher rate of developing an HAI. For instance, in a four-year study conducted by NIH, babies who were temporarily moved from an older NICU and eventually taken to a new, improved NICU, had an increased chance of developing HAI; the rates increased from 12.8% to 18.6%.
Yet even with provided resources, infants are still dying at hospitals, and those we develop an HAI and still survive are at risk for long-term medical issues. Parents of these infants often face insurmountable issues regarding high-cost medical expenses.