Healthcare News & Insights

Infection rates don’t tell whole story with ventilator-associated pneumonia

The fight’s never over with infection prevention. More news has surfaced proving that hospitals still have work to do regarding hospital-acquired infections in patients. Even though improvements have been made, facilities can’t get comfortable with their progress just yet. 

472698578One infection that’s persistently plagued hospitals is ventilator-associated pneumonia. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that rates are on the decline.

However, that’s not the whole story, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Sickest patients getting sicker

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut, took a closer look at ventilator-associated pneumonia rates via information from the Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System.

Per an article from WNPR, the public radio outlet in Connecticut, researchers specifically looked at groups of patients with the infection age 65 and older who also had certain pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, heart attack and sepsis with pneumonia.

Researchers decided to focus on patients with these conditions because they most closely represent the types of people who are typically on ventilators in the intensive-care unit, so they’d be the most vulnerable to contracting infections from the devices.

When examining the data for these patients, the researchers found that about 10% of patients who are on ventilators in acute-care hospitals for more than two days will develop ventilator-associated pneumonia. And that rate has remained virtually unchanged for the past decade.

It can be tough for hospitals to pinpoint these infections in the sickest ICU patients because they have several illnesses contributing to their overall health conditions. So they may often slip through the cracks when reporting data to the CDC, which could explain why ventilator-associated pneumonia seems to be on the decline.

Avoiding deadly infections

The results from this study show that hospitals must still be vigilant about preventing ventilator-associated pneumonia in patients.

According to the CDC, the best prevention strategies are for clinical staff to:

  • keep the head of the patient’s bed raised between 30 or 45 degrees at all times, unless the person has a medical condition that makes this impossible.
  • assess how well patients are able to breathe on their own every day so the ventilator can be removed as soon as possible.
  • clean hands thoroughly using either soap and water, or an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, both before and after touching the patient and the ventilator
  • clean the inside of the patient’s mouth regularly, and
  • replace or thoroughly clean equipment between use on different patients.

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