Healthcare-associated infection

Sick, weakened or vulnerable people are more susceptible to infections. As a result, outbreaks can occur in places where these people temporarily stay together, such as in hospitals and care institutions, in which several people become infected with the same germ. These can be viruses, such as the flu virus or coronavirus, but also bacteria or fungi. In the case of bacterial infections, these are often resistant bacteria that are less sensitive to antibiotics. Such outbreaks present a particular challenge to healthcare staff. Infections that occur during care are referred to as healthcare-associated infections or nosocomial infections.

Why are healthcare associated infections a public health problem?

Healthcare-associated infections, often due to bacteria that are difficult to treat in weakened people, cause additional needs such as additional therapy, a longer stay in hospital and sometimes irreparable damage. In the case of outbreaks of healthcare-associated infections with bacteria that are difficult to treat, the costs and personnel for the healthcare sector add up to very large amounts on an annual basis.

Do healthcare-associated infections only occur in hospitals and healthcare institutions?

Infections with bacteria or other organisms that are difficult to treat can also occur among the general population, quite apart from the healthcare sector. The risk groups include debilitated people, very young children and pregnant women. This concerns, for example, respiratory infections, food infections, skin infections, urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases. In the case of such infections, treatment may also fail or require additional tests and more expensive treatments. 

What can be done to prevent healthcare-associated infections?

A significant proportion of healthcare-associated infections can be avoided through good practices in healthcare institutions. For example, good hand hygiene before placing catheters (blood & urine) or ventilators is crucial to avoid various healthcare-associated infections. Applying surgical techniques in strict accordance with the relevant guidelines will also prevent complications after surgical procedures. Furthermore, good follow-up of preventive actions and risk factors as well as healthcare-associated infections themselves is crucial for the control of healthcare-associated infections.

That is why the hospitals (and residential care centers) closely monitor quality indicators such as hand hygiene, the presence of the bacteria involved (antibiotic resistance) and careful use of antibiotics in close consultation and collaboration with Sciensano and BAPCOC (Belgian Antibiotic Policy Coordination Committee).

Information for health professionals  

In the context of healthcare-associated infections, Belgian acute care hospitals are obliged by way of Royal Decree to participate in certain surveillance projects. In addition, there are also projects in which hospitals have the option to participate, depending on the specific needs of the institution. You can find more information about the various surveillance projects and the registration of health data in the context of these surveillance measures on the page of the Healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance service.  

Sciensano coordinates the monitoring of healthcare-associated infections and prevention factors for Belgian hospitals and harmonizes this data for local, regional, national and international purposes.

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