Bloodstream infections

Bloodstream infections are serious infections that often lead to death. Every year, thousands of patients in our country get a bloodstream infection while in hospital. Some of the bloodstream infections acquired in hospital can be avoided by following internationally recognized guidelines.

What is a bloodstream infection?

A bloodstream infection (popularly known as “blood poisoning”) occurs when a microorganism (such as a bacterium, virus or parasite) enters the blood from another part of the body, such as the skin, bladder or lungs. This is dangerous, because if such a microorganism enters the bloodstream, it can be spread over the whole body, along with the harmful products that it produces.

Bloodstream infections that occur during a patient’s stay in hospital are referred to as hospital-associated bloodstream infections.

Who is at risk of a bloodstream infection?

Bloodstream infections mainly occur in older and already weakened patients. Weakened patients include patients with an impaired immune system and patients already suffering from other serious illnesses, such as cancer patients.

What is the course of a bloodstream infection?

A bloodstream infection can quickly lead to death and must be treated in hospital. If the bloodstream infection is not treated, it can lead to sepsis (also known as general blood poisoning) resulting in the failure of the function of the organs (such as kidney, liver, heart).

What is the effect of hospital-associated bloodstream infections on public health and the health system?

Hospital-associated bloodstream infections can aggravate the disease for which the patient was originally hospitalized and increase the risk of death. Hospital-associated bloodstream infections also represent a significant increase in medical costs, as additional diagnostic tests and specific treatments have to be carried out.

Can hospital-associated bloodstream infections be prevented?

Many hospital-associated bloodstream infections, especially those associated with invasive devices (such as a catheter in the urinary tract or a blood vessel or a tube in the lung) can be prevented by following internationally recognized preventive measures. One of these measures is, for example, the application of strict hand hygiene when caring for the patient and during the placement, care and removal of invasive devices.

Information for health professionals

If you wish to participate in the surveillance of bloodstream infections as a healthcare institution, you can find more information and the registration form on the website of the Healthcare-Associated Infections & Antimicrobial Resistance (NSIH) Unit. From 1 July 2017, bloodstream infection data will be logged via HealthData. More information about access to HealthData and data logging can also be found on the Healthcare-Associated Infections & Antimicrobial Resistance (NSIH) Unit website and on the HealthData website.

Sciensano coordinates the surveillance of bloodstream infections in Belgian hospitals. Thus, Sciensano can monitor and describe not only the number of hospital-associated bloodstream infections, but also the microorganisms that caused these bloodstream infections.

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