Study: Norovirus leading cause of hospital infections

Four bacteria cause 60% of outbreaks

Norovirus was the leading cause of hospital infection outbreaks from 2008 to 2009 and also accounted for the most department closures, according to a new study in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Researchers surveyed 822 members of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology who tracked outbreak investigations in U.S. hospitals between 2008 and 2009. The study looked at how often infection outbreaks occurred, as well as what triggered investigations, the organism responsible, and response methods.

The researchers found that over the two-year study period there were 386 outbreak investigations initiated at 289 hospitals. Most investigations took place in medical or surgical ICUs, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term acute care hospitals. Identification of an unusual pathogen triggered 344 of the 386 investigations.

According to the study, four organisms caused nearly 60% of all hospital outbreaks, including:

  • 18.2% from norovirus;
  • 17.5% from Staphylococcus aureus;
  • 13.7% from Acinetobacter spp; and
  • 10.3% from Clostridium difficile.

About 22.6% of investigations resulted in the closure of a unit or department—affecting on average 16.7 beds for 8.3 days—and 52% of investigations were reported to an outside agency. The most common control responses included taking better precautions and improving hospital sanitation.

The researchers advised that all hospitals have an infection prevention and control program, as well as train staff in all aspects of outbreak investigations (Stein, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 1/31;, 1/31).

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