Pandemic fueled big jump in healthcare-associated infections, CDC finds

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The incidence of healthcare-associated infections increased significantly in 2020 after years of steady declines, according to a CDC analysis published Sept. 2 in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Researchers used data from the National Healthcare Safety Network — the largest HAI surveillance system in the U.S. — to analyze national infection rates by quarter for 2019 and 2020.

In the fourth quarter 2020, rates for four of six regularly tracked infections had increased compared to 2019:

  • Central line-associated bloodstream infections: 47 percent increase
  • Ventilator-associated events: 44.8 percent increase
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: 33.8 percent increase
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections: 18.8 percent increase

Rates of surgical-site infections and Clostridioides difficile either decreased or held steady in 2020. 

Researchers attributed the increase to various challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including staffing shortages and high patient caseloads, which limited hospitals' ability to follow standard infection control practices. 

"The unfortunate reality is that in one year we lost nearly a decade of progress against HAIs like central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and ventilator-associated events," Ann Marie Pettis, BSN, RN, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, said in a statement about the report. "APIC is calling on healthcare facilities to assess their infection prevention programs by looking at the care and services they provide and determining the appropriate level of personnel and resources necessary to protect patients and healthcare workers."

To view the full report, click here.

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