Hospital-acquired infections are those that were not present prior to admission to a health care facility. Increased awareness has led to improved preventative measures, resulting in a downward trend in HAI in American hospitals. Nevertheless, according to recent information by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an estimated 648,000 inpatients nationwide experienced a hospital-acquired infection at least once. 

Educating yourself about HAI may help you better protect yourself. You should understand how and why these infections happen and which parts of the body they are likely to affect if and when they do occur. 

Types of infections 

The most common type of HAI is pneumonia. There is a distinction between general hospital-acquired pneumonia and that associated specifically with the use of a ventilator. Other common HAIs include surgical site infections, urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections. UTIs may result from the use of a catheter and bloodstream infections often result from a central line inserted into a large vein to administer intravenous fluids. 

Causes of infections 

There are four species of bacteria most likely to cause hospital-acquired infections in any area of the body. They include Klebsiella and Escherichia coli. However, the most common culprits are Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus, which includes methicillin-resistant strains. Bacteria such as these often colonize in areas of the body that are frequently warm and moist. Examples include the armpit or the groin. 

Risks of infection 

There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing a hospital-acquired infection. These include the length and frequency of your visits to health care facilities. Your risk increases if you have recently had an invasive procedure or you have chronic indwelling devices placed. Underlying chronic medical conditions can also increase your risk, as can a compromised immune system. The risk of HAI also increases with age. 

The intensive care unit is the location where 20% of all hospital-acquired infections occur. In the ICU, you and the other patients are at your most vulnerable, and you may come in contact with pathogens from the hospital facility, staff or other patients.