Preventing health-care-associated infections focus of UA health sciences researcher

TUCSON, Ariz. – On any given day in the United States, about 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least one health-care-associated infection (HAI), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These infections affect 4.5% of all hospitalized U.S. patients annually, costing the health-care industry an estimated $30 billion each year.

Adding to the problem: Treatment of these preventable infections requires the use of antibiotic therapy, and the continued reliance on these drugs increases antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health.

As part of the response to this emerging public health threat, Marc Verhougstraete, PhD, assistant professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has been awarded a $510,000 grant from the CDC to quantify the occurrence of the most concerning pathogens in hospitals that are difficult to kill or are antibiotic resistant.

Working with three hospitals in Arizona, Georgia and Ohio, the results of the study will inform hospital-cleaning protocols to better protect patients and health-care workers from these serious infections.

Hand hygiene and surface cleaning are the current interventions practiced to reduce HAIs. Although substantial research shows the effectiveness of hand washing and increasing compliance among staff, surface cleaning research is limited. “A patients’ risk of acquiring an HAI depends on many factors, including the patient, the characteristics of the room, the pathogen, the hospital and environmental-cleaning practices,” Dr. Verhougstraete said.

Using quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA), the process of estimating the risk from exposure to microorganisms, Dr. Verhougstraete quickly can simulate the effect of different environmental-cleaning methods on HAI rates.

The project will target four common HAIs: Clostridium difficile, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Acinetobacter baumannii, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) on materials likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils and furniture.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Grant No. 75D30118C02916

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the state of Arizona, with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information:

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs approximately 4,000 people, has approximately 800 faculty members and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information:

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