Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Healthcare Settings

Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause infections in patients in hospitals.

Pseudomonas is a type of bacteria (germ) that is found commonly in the environment, like in soil and in water. Of the many different types of Pseudomonas, the one that most often causes infections in humans is called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia), or other parts of the body after surgery.

These bacteria are constantly finding new ways to avoid the effects of the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Antibiotic resistance occurs when the germs no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. If they develop resistance to several types of antibiotics, these germs can become multidrug-resistant.

How common are these infections?

In 2017, multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa caused an estimated 32,600 infections among hospitalized patients and 2,700 estimated deaths in the United States [Source: 2019 AR Threats Report].

Who is at risk?

Those most at risk include patients in hospitals, especially those:

  • on breathing machines (ventilators)
  • with devices such as catheters
  • with wounds from surgery or burns

How is it spread?

Pseudomonas aeruginosa lives in the environment and can be spread to people in healthcare settings when they are exposed to water or soil that is contaminated with these germs. Resistant strains of the germ can also spread in healthcare settings from one person to another through contaminated hands, equipment, or surfaces.

How can you avoid getting an infection?

Patients and caregivers should:

  • keep their hands clean to avoid getting sick and spreading germs that can cause infections
    • wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, particularly before and after caring for wounds or touching a medical device
  • remind healthcare providers and caregivers to clean their hands before touching the patient or handling medical devices
  • allow healthcare staff to clean their room daily when in a healthcare setting

Healthcare providers should pay careful attention to recommended infection control practices, including hand hygiene and environmental cleaning (e.g., cleaning of patient rooms and shared equipment) to reduce the risk of spreading these germs to patients.

Healthcare facilities should have water management plans (see Reduce Risk from Water) that help ensure water quality and reduce the risk of exposure to potentially harmful germs like Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

How are these infections treated?

Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections are generally treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, in people exposed to healthcare settings like hospitals or nursing homes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections are becoming more difficult to treat because of increasing antibiotic resistance.

To identify the best antibiotic to treat a specific infection, healthcare providers will send a specimen (often called a culture) to the laboratory and test any bacteria that grow against a set of antibiotics to determine which are active against the germ. The provider will then select an antibiotic based on the activity of the antibiotic and other factors, like potential side effects or interactions with other drugs.  For some multidrug-resistant types of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, treatment options might be limited.

What is CDC doing to address these infections?

How to Participate
In CDC’s AR Lab Network

CDC tracks Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the infections this germ can cause, including antibiotic-resistant infections. Additionally, CDC works closely with partners, including public health departments, other federal agencies, healthcare providers, and patients, to prevent healthcare infections and to slow the spread of resistant germs.

Learn more about how CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network detects highly resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections.