Here’s something to think about when you go to the hospital: norovirus, a pathogen responsible for food poisoning and gasteroenteritis, causes more than 18 percent of all infection outbreaks and 65 percent of ward closures in U.S. hospitals, according to a new study.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, researchers surveyed 822 hospitals during 2008 and 2009 to determine how often outbreak investigations are initiated, as well as their triggers, the types of organisms found and the control measures taken.
More than a third of the hospitals said they had at least one outbreak. Four organisms caused almost 60 percent of them: norovirus, 18.2 percent; Staphylococcus aureus, 17.5 percent; Acinetobacter spp, 13.7 percent; and Clostridium difficile, 10.3 percent. Together, they were respobsible for 386 outbreaks in the two-year period.
Almost 40 percent of the outbreaks were in medical-surgical or surgical units units and more than 29 percent were in emergency departments, rehab units or long-term acute care hospitals, psychiatric units and skilled nursing facilities.
The average number sickened per outbreak was just over 10 and the average duration was more than 58 days. About half were not reported to any external agency, though in most states reporting to the health deaprtment is required. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently released guidelines for preventing and controlling norovirus outbreaks.
“It is clear that outbreaks of healthcare-associated infections occur with some frequency in hospitals as well as nonacute settings,” said the authors in the study. “An infection prevention and control program and its staff should be prepared for all aspects of an outbreak investigation through written policies and procedures as well as communication with internal and external partners.”