Hospitals

Minimizing the numbers of microorganisms in a hospital is particularly important because of the danger of hospital-acquired, or nosocomial, infections. Hospitalized patients are often more susceptible to infectious agents because of their weakened condition. In addition, patients may be subject to invasive procedures such as surgery, which breaches the intact skin that would otherwise help prevent infection. Finally, pathogens are more likely to be found in hospitals because of the high concentration of patients with infectious disease. These patients may shed pathogens in their feces, urine, respiratory droplets, or other body secretions. Thus, hospitals must be scrupulous in their control of microorganisms. Nowhere is this more important than in the operating rooms, where instruments used in invasive procedures must be sterile to avoid introducing even normally benign microbes into deep body tissue where they could easily establish infection. ■ nosocomial infections, p. 499

Prions are a relatively new concern for hospitals. Fortunately, disease caused by prions is thought to be exceedingly rare, less than 1 case per 1 million persons per year. Hospitals, however, must take special precautions when handling tissue that may be contaminated with prions, because these infectious particles are more difficult to destroy.

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