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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Healthcare Infections: Spread Information, Not Blame

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

Healthcare infections can stigmatize patients who remain infected or colonized with MRSA and other multidrug-resistant organisms, as some return to their communities feeling like "plague" victims, researchers report.

“They feel blamed for having the infection. They feel ‘dirty’ and worry about being contagious and transmitting infection, particularly to family members,” says Kay Currie, PhD, lead author of a multinational study and a researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.

Some infected patients suffer a social and psychological aftermath of infections that go well beyond the clinical aspects of the diseases. Stigma was most pronounced in those with MRSA but also was found for those with Clostridium difficile, extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL), and surgical site infections (SSIs).

The researchers found that healthcare infections have developed a negative social and cultural context, with MRSA and other "superbugs" portrayed in the media as coming from unsanitary hospitals with poor staff hygiene practices. The threat of transmission of these pathogens is often exaggerated in the lay press, with gruesome characteristics such as “flesh-eating” bacteria becoming a darling of the tabloids.

Unfortunately, some of the negative feelings began in study participants during hospital care and continued during follow-up visits, as patients had little confidence in front-line healthcare workers’ understanding of the infections.

However, Currie found that patients who consulted with infection preventionists before discharge were less likely to feel stigmatized, in part because they received clear information about their conditions and accurate assessments of the risks to others.

For more on this story see the October 2018 issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.