This post looks at the most common hospital-caused infections that patients in Australia can be susceptible to. This post also explains who lies at fault with these, and what action can be taken when a patient contracts one of these infections.

A stay in hospital is never without an elevated level of risk for one’s health. However, one of the underlying and more sinister causes of sickness within a hospital are infections. Approximately 165, 000 Australians contract an infection while in hospital. These infections, which can include urinary tract, staph, surgical site and respiratory infection can lead to death in individuals who are already sick and have weakened immune systems.

All hospitals have infection control procedures and policies however studies have found that these procedures are not kept 100% of the time. While it is almost impossible to completely eliminate the risk of infection, patients need to hold hospitals responsible for their duty of care.

Common Forms of Infection

Infections occur when microorganisms are introduced into a part of the body that would not normally have them. For example, bacteria in a wound, in the blood stream or in the bladder might cause an infection.

There are many different forms of infection that can be caught within the walls of a hospital. The most common forms of infection are;

  • Urinary tract infection from a catheter
  • Bloodstream infections
  • Infections of the wound
  • Pneumonia or lung infections

While these infections are in most cases, relatively mild and can be treated with a round of antibiotics – the issue remains that these infections should not have happened in the first place.

These infections can sometimes develop into more serious and life threatening viruses. These infections are difficult to treat because the bacteria has become resistant to standard antibiotics. These bacteria are often called superbugs.

Some examples of superbugs that can be contracted in a hospital include;

  • Staphylococcus aureus (often times called golden staph or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Resistant Enterococcus (also called vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus)
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae

Any of these superbugs can be the cause of extreme sickness and death, to individuals who already have a compromised immune system due to being in hospital.       

Common causes of infection

While not all hospital-acquired infections are preventable, studies show that many are. This particular study found that in hospitals across the United States more between 65-70% of catheter-associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections can be prevented.

In a hospital or health-care setting, microorganisms that are a normal part of the human body are often transferred via health care workers and can also be found in the patient’s environment. For example, patients admitted to a room previously occupied by a carrier of a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to drugs have a significantly higher risk of acquiring that bacteria.

The narrative perpetuated by hospitals when individuals have contracted infections are that it is simply something that happens and just bad luck. This statement is resoundingly not true. Recent studies demonstrate that the onus of care is on hospitals to mitigate the risk of infection transmission within the hospital environment. Thorough cleaning practices of patients rooms and surrounding areas (such as the nurses station) are as fundamental as hand hygiene in the prevention of disease carrying organisms.

What can be done?

The impact of hospital-acquired infections is set to increase with the rise of antibiotic resistant strains of disease. Not only this, but treatment of these infections is also looking to become more and more challenging for healthcare workers.

Studies from Europe and the US suggest that the most common hospital infections are pneumonia, urinary tract infections and infections at the surgical site. However, there is no data available for any infections acquired in Australian hospitals.

Persons who contract a hospital acquired infection need to hold the hospital accountable. This is particularly true for those who suffer from an antibiotic-resistant infection or an infection at the site of the wound.

At Owen Hodge Lawyers, we have a vested interest in helping those who have acquired an infection in hospital. We will be with you all the way in understanding your particular circumstance, and holding those responsible accountable. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you wish to discuss you matter further on 1800 770 780 or via email at ohl@owenhodge.com.au.