College of American Pathologists
Printable Version

  Hospital-Acquired Infections


Posted November 25, 2008


The College of American Pathologists recommends that Hospital Infection Control Programs monitor the rates of hospital-acquired infections and promote interventions that reduce patients’ risks for these infections in their institutions.

Information Highlights

  • Bacteria that are found in hospitals are often resistant to many antibiotics, which make the infections caused by these bacteria more difficult to treat.
  • These microorganisms may cause infections in hospitalized patients who were originally hospitalized for another reason.
  • Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile are types of bacteria that commonly cause serious hospital-acquired infections.
  • In hospitals, bacteria can be easily spread from patient to patient, and can also be spread between patients and healthcare workers.
  • Some bacteria, like MRSA, may live among the normal bacteria that colonize the nose, armpits, groin, or other body sites without causing infection.
  • MRSA, C. difficile, or other bacteriamay be transmitted from a colonized or an infected patient to a non-colonized patient.  The newly colonized patient may be more susceptible and become infected by the bacteria.
  • Similarly, bacteria from a colonized patient may contaminate the hands of Health Care Providers and then be passed on to other patients.
  • Hand washing greatly decreases the risk of spreading these bacteria from patient to patient.
  • Placing patients, who are infected or colonized by the same type of microorganism in single rooms, or together in the same room or ward, diminishes the transmission of these bacteria to non-infected patients.  This is called “isolation” and “cohorting”. These important infection control measures decrease the spread of new infections within the hospital.
  • Patients who are colonized with MRSA may be treated with antibacterial agents to eliminate these bacteria from their bodies. Such “decontamination” treatments may decrease the patients’ risk that the MRSA will progress to cause infection, for example during surgery, or be transmitted to anyone else.
  • Hospital Infection Control Programs should monitor serious infections that patients acquire during hospitalization, especially those caused by Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
  • Programs should consistently promote hand washing and other methods to diminish infections caused by these bacteria in hospitalized patients.