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Hospitalized Patients and Fungal Infections

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Even though you’re staying in the hospital to get better, it’s possible to get an infection while you’re there. If you’re staying in the hospital for an injury or an illness, you may be at risk for getting a fungal infection, especially if you’re very sick or have a weak immune system. These types of infections are called healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

Hospital staff and healthcare providers do everything they can to prevent HAIs, but some procedures and situations can increase your risk for fungal HAIs. The information provided below can help you understand your risk and help you be a safe patient while hospitalized.

 

What you need to know about fungal infections

Fungal infections can range from mild to life-threatening. Some fungal infections are mild skin rashes, but others can be deadly, like fungal pneumonia. Because of this, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible to try to avoid serious infection.

Life-saving devices like central venous catheters (a special kind of IV tube) can increase your risk for fungal infection. During your hospital stay you may need a central venous catheter, which is a tube placed into a vein to give medications or liquids. This can make it easier for fungi to enter your body and increase your chances of getting a fungal bloodstream infection such as candidemia.1, 2

Disease-causing fungi can enter your body through cuts, wounds, and burns. Fungi naturally live on your skin and on healthcare workers’ hands. These fungi can enter your body through cuts and wounds and cause infection during a hospital stay, especially if your wounds are severe.3

Staying in the intensive care unit (ICU). If you’re in the ICU because you’re critically ill or injured, you’re likely to need life-saving devices or procedures that can put you at risk for fungal infections, particularly Candida and Aspergillus infections.4

Surgery can lead to infection. If you’ve had surgery, it’s possible to get a fungal infection in in the part of the body where the surgery took place. Surgical site infections are often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by fungi.

Hospital construction. Hospital staff do everything they can to prevent fungal infections. Despite this, outbreaks of aspergillosis have happened among very sick patients staying at hospitals where there is ongoing construction or renovation.5 This is thought to be because construction stirs up the amount of fungal spores in the air.

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Preventing fungal infections in hospitalized patients

Fungi are difficult to avoid because they are a natural part of the environment. Fungi live outdoors in soil, on plants, trees, and other vegetation. They are also on many indoor surfaces and on your skin. However, there may be some ways for you to lower your chances of getting a serious fungal infection.

Learn about fungal infections. There are different types of fungal infections. Learning about them can help you and your healthcare provider recognize the symptoms early, which may prevent serious illness.

Take medications as directed. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antifungal medications to prevent fungal infections. Scientists are still learning about which patients are at highest risk and how best to prevent fungal infections.3

Be a safe patient. There are some actions that you can take to help protect yourself from infections, including:

  • Speak up. Talk to your doctor about any worries you have about your safety and ask them what they are doing to protect you.
  • Keep hands clean.  If you do not see your providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so.  Also remind your loved ones and visitors. Washing hands can prevent the spread of germs.
  • For more tips on how to be a safer patient, please see Ten Things You Can Do to Be a Safe Patient.

What to do after leaving the hospital. If you have a weakened immune system, you may still be at risk for getting a fungal infection after you leave the hospital. For more information about different health conditions and fungal infections, please see the links below:

Healthcare workers play a role in preventing infections in hospitalized patients. Please visit CDC’s HAI prevention page for more details.

References

  1. Pfaller MA, Diekema DJ. Epidemiology of invasive candidiasis: a persistent public health problem. Clin Microbiol Rev 2007;20:133-63.
  2. Vincent JL, Anaissie E, Bruining H, et al. Epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment of systemic Candida infection in surgical patients under intensive care. Intensive Care Med 1998;24:206-16.
  3. Alangaden GJ. Nosocomial Fungal Infections: Epidemiology, Infection Control, and Prevention. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 2011;25:201-25.
  4. Zilberberg MD, Shorr AF. Fungal infections in the ICU. Infect Dis Clin North Am 2009;23:625-42.
  5. Haiduven D. Nosocomial aspergillosis and building construction. Med Mycol 2009;47 Suppl 1:S210-6.

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