Patients with healthcare associated infections feel like lepers, study finds

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Many patients with healthcare associated infections (HAIs) like MRSA have reported feeling “like a leper” or “dirty” after being diagnosed, according to a new study.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) looked at 17 studies from five different countries during a major review.

They focused on the experiences of patients with five common types of HAIs, including Clostridium difficile (C. diff), MRSA and surgical wound infections.

Professor Kay Currie
Professor Kay Currie said patients with HAIs can feel isolated (GCU/PA)

Some people have been left too scared to go to the hairdresser or the gym because they fear they may pass on the infection.

The researchers also found that some healthcare providers distanced themselves from patients who are carrying organisms that can lead to infections.

Lead study author Kay Currie, professor of nursing and applied healthcare research at GCU, said: “Within the review we looked at the experiences of people who were ill with infections such as surgical wound infections or Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which was associated with 18 deaths at the Vale of Leven Hospital in Dunbartonshire between 2007 and 2008.

“We also looked at people who are colonised – which means they are carrying antibiotic-resistant organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Extended-Spectrum Beta-lactamases(ESBL) in or on their bodies but have no symptoms.

“These people said they felt dirty, like a leper or having the plague because of the stronger stigma response from healthcare professionals – they get put into an isolation room and feel that everyone treats them as though they are really contagious and a real threat.

“However, they’ve probably had this organism sitting in their bodies for years at home with no ill-effects to themselves, and when they go back into the community they are not a significant risk.

“The real threat is when they are in hospital and these resistant organisms spread to vulnerable patients who can get a really life-threatening infection.

“They also reported leaving hospital with a lack of information about what level of precaution they needed to take.

“Some people said they were scared to go to the hairdresser, the gym or swimming for fear of passing on the infection. It had a real impact on their lives. This fear also affected personal and workplace relationships.”

The findings have paved the way for what is thought to be Scotland’s first in-depth study into how patients across the country cope with HAIs and how they are treated by healthcare professionals.

Prof Currie is now leading a study which is part of the Evaluation of Cost of Nosocomial Infection (ECONI) study, led by Professor Jacqui Reilly at GCU, examining the hospital, community and wider societal cost of HAI.

The national point prevalence survey (PPS), published last May, indicated the prevalence of HAI in acute hospitals in Scotland was 4.5%, which was significantly lower than the previous five years but still represents one in 22 patients at any one time, or 55,500 infections every year, GCU said.

Prof Reilly said: “Healthcare associated infections (HAI) are an unintended consequence of healthcare and represent a significant threat to patient safety and to safe care, wherever that is delivered.

“There are also wider impacts for community care provisions and wider societal costs. The ECONI study is aiming to quantify these impacts and costs for the first time.”

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