The consequences of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) reach well beyond patients’ physical health, sometimes leading to soured social relationships, according to UK researchers.
They found many patients experienced an emotional response to their diagnosis and described “feeling dirty,” “having the plague,” or “feeling like a leper”.
“Having an HCAI is a significant event in the patient’s care journey and subsequent life”
The researchers, from Glasgow Caledonian University, conducted a meta-synthesis of qualitative research, looking at 17 studies from five different countries addressing five common types of HCAIs.
They focused on patient experiences of both colonisation and infection from bacteria that commonly cause HCAIs.
Based on their findings, the study authors urged healthcare providers to consider the social circumstances that coloured patient experiences and the responses of those around them.
While emotional responses varied based on type of HCAI, patients with nearly all infection types or forms of colonisation reported a fear of transmitting their infection to others.
This fear affected personal and workplace relationships, said the researchers in the American Journal of Infection Control, which represents the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
“It is critical to understand the long-lasting impact of such infections not just from a physical perspective”
Some patients, particularly those colonised by MRSA, also expressed concern about working in certain professions, because of their condition and a fear of rejection by co-workers.
In addition, many patients reported changing their personal hygiene behaviour, taking precautions to prevent the transmission of infection, including undergoing extensive cleaning at home.
Those able to speak to infection prevention experts reported receiving constructive information and feeling reassured, whereas patients who did not, reported feeling dismissed by staff members.
The analysis also suggested some healthcare providers sought to distance themselves from patients affected by HCAIs.
The studies in the review highlighted reports of exclusion from rehabilitation classes, requirements to wait until the end of clinic appointments to be seen, or restrictions on attending clinics.
Such situations were particularly prominent among patients with infections caused by resistant organisms, such as MRSA or Extended-Spectrum Beta-lactamases.
The researchers also highlighted that many patients with HCAIs reported interactions that took place in a climate that induced fear and uncertainty.
This was found to be particularly the case when frontline healthcare staff lacked knowledge of the causes and consequences of HCAIs and could not provide the patient with adequate information.
Lead study author Kay Currie said: “Having an HCAI is a significant event in the patient’s care journey and subsequent life that is influenced by biology, society and context.
“Understanding the patient experience can help healthcare providers to interact and respond in a constructive way, providing more effective support during this challenging time,” she added.
APIC president and registered nurse Janet Haas said: “It is critical to understand the long-lasting impact of such infections not just from a physical perspective, but also from a social and emotional perspective.
“This qualitative review provides valuable insight into the patient perspective and how healthcare professionals can more effectively interact with their patients to enhance recovery in all areas of their lives,” she added.