UA researcher focuses on preventing health-care-associated infections

On any given day in the United States, about 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least one health-care-associated infection (HAI), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These infections affect 4.5% of all hospitalized U.S. patients annually, costing the health-care industry an estimated $30 billion each year.

Adding to the problem: Treatment of these preventable infections requires the use of antibiotic therapy, and the continued reliance on these drugs increases antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public's health.

As part of the response to this emerging public health threat, Marc Verhougstraete, PhD, assistant professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has been awarded a $510,000 grant from the CDC to quantify the occurrence of the most concerning pathogens in hospitals that are difficult to kill or are antibiotic resistant.

Working with three hospitals in Arizona, Georgia and Ohio, the results of the study will inform hospital-cleaning protocols to better protect patients and health-care workers from these serious infections.

Hand hygiene and surface cleaning are the current interventions practiced to reduce HAIs. Although substantial research shows the effectiveness of hand washing and increasing compliance among staff, surface cleaning research is limited. "A patients' risk of acquiring an HAI depends on many factors, including the patient, the characteristics of the room, the pathogen, the hospital and environmental-cleaning practices," Dr. Verhougstraete said.

Using quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA), the process of estimating the risk from exposure to microorganisms, Dr. Verhougstraete quickly can simulate the effect of different environmental-cleaning methods on HAI rates.

The project will target four common HAIs: Clostridium difficile, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Acinetobacter baumannii, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) on materials likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils and furniture.

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