Skin and soft tissue (SST) infections are common in hospitals because the bacteria that lead to these types of infection are prevalent in the medical environment. Additionally, patients are at high risk because their skin is often cut for a procedure. They might also suffer abrasions or lacerations due to other causes. For instance, bed sores can be an issue in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and lead to infections.
There are ways to protect against skin infections, even when a hospital stay puts you at high risk, but it requires a great deal of vigilance. If a skin infection is inescapable, it is important to receive a quick diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible.
What should hospital patients know about SST infections?
Skin and Soft Tissue Infections
Skin and soft tissue infections are most commonly caused by the staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria. Hospital patients and nursing home residents are also at risk from exposure to a variety of other bacteria, but staph is still one of the most common causes. Patients with diabetes, HIV, or hepatitis, or those undergoing chemotherapy or other medical treatments that affect the immune system experience a higher risk for developing infections. Likewise, those recovering from surgery face an especially high risk because the skin has been traumatized and is prone to infection.
Symptoms of an SST Infection
Symptoms associated with skin infections vary based on the cause of the infection. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Red, swollen, or painful patches
- Warm patches
- Development of cellulitis, folliculitis, impetigo, cabuncles, pimples or boils
- White lumps or bumps
- Blisters, which are sometimes itchy and might be filled with clear or cloudy liquid
- Thick, yellow lesions
Skin infections that develop at the site of a surgical wound can involve skin, as well as organs, tissue, and any implanted materials. This type of soft tissue infection can take weeks or months to develop following surgery. For instance, patients with hip implants sometimes experience infections years after the implantation of their device.
How Common are SST Infections in Hospitals?
SST infections are extremely common for hospital patients, due in part to the increase in risk from damaged skin. Estimates show surgical site soft tissue infections account for 22% of HAI infections, making it the second most common complication related to hospital care behind pneumonia.
It is easier for staph bacteria to enter the body when there is an open wound. Most staph infections are easy to treat and cause no permanent damage. However, antibiotic resistant staph has become a problem in hospitals, so it is important to keep in close communication with your doctor if an infection develops. If the first course of treatment appears to not be working, he or she might try a different approach to avoid serious problems.
Who is at Fault if I Develop a Hospital Related SST Infection?
The best way to prevent SST infections is to keep skin clean and undamaged. Unfortunately, undamaged skin is impossible for many hospital patients because of surgery and various medical treatments. Wounded skin must be washed on a frequent basis with soap and water and kept covered with a sterile bandage. Petroleum jelly is sometimes applied to keep the tissue moist and to prevent bacteria from invading the wound. Most doctors will not prescribe preventative antibiotics for skin wounds because they create resistant bacteria, but if a patient develops an SST infection, antibiotic ointments will be used. If the infection is large, oral or injected antibiotics might be prescribed.
It can be difficult to determine who is responsible if an SST infection develops in a patient who has recently undergone medical care. When surgery patients are released from hospitals, they are sent home with detailed instructions for caring for their wounds. If these instructions are not followed letter-by-letter, an infection can develop. In some cases infections occur even when the instructions are followed. Additionally, it can be difficult to determine exactly when exposure to an infection-causing bacteria occurred.
Can I File a Lawsuit if an Infection Develops after I Leave the Hospital?
Infections can develop in the weeks following a hospital stay, even if exposure occurred during the time in the hospital. Chances are if the infection is caused by bacteria other than staph or strep, the infection began in the hospital.
If you would like to know more about SST infections or you have questions about an infection you experienced following a hospital stay, contact us for more information.