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Healthcare-Associated Infection (HAI)

Healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs, are infections that people acquire while they are receiving treatment for another condition in a healthcare setting. HAIs can be acquired anywhere healthcare is delivered, including inpatient acute care hospitals, outpatient settings such as ambulatory surgical centers and end-stage renal disease facilities, and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. HAIs may be caused by any infectious agent, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, as well as other less common types of pathogens.

These infections are associated with a variety of risk factors, including:

  • Use of indwelling medical devices such as bloodstream, endotracheal, and urinary catheters
  • Surgical procedures
  • Injections
  • Contamination of the healthcare environment
  • Transmission of communicable diseases between patients and healthcare workers
  • Overuse or improper use of antibiotics

Magnitude of the Problem

HAIs are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. At any given time, about 1 in every 20 inpatients has an infection related to hospital care. These infections cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year and lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In addition, HAIs can have devastating emotional, financial and medical consequences. 

A majority of hospital-acquired HAIs include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Surgical site infections
  • Bloodstream infections
  • Pneumonia

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has identified the reduction of HAIs as an Agency Priority Goal for the Department. By September 30, 2013, HHS is committed to reducing the national rate of HAIs by demonstrating significant, quantitative, and measurable reductions in hospital-acquired central line-associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

Please visit HAI Agency Priority Goals for more information on HAI specific goals, including the progress made to date.

Please visit HHS Agency Priority Goals for more information on all of the HHS Agency Priority Goals. 

Call to Action

There is growing consensus that our ultimate goal should be the elimination of HAIs. To coordinate and maximize the efficiency of prevention efforts, a senior-level Federal Steering Committee for the Prevention of Healthcare-Associated Infections was established in 2008. Members include clinicians, scientists, and public health leaders who are high-ranking officials from the HHS, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Steering Committee marshaled the extensive and diverse resources across the federal government, formed public and private partnerships, and initiated discussions that identified new approaches to HAI prevention and collaborations.

In 2009, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health created the Office of Healthcare Quality (OHQ) to support and carry out the Steering Committee’s mandate to improve healthcare quality by preventing and eventually eliminating HAIs. The Steering Committee developed the National Action Plan to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections: Roadmap to Elimination. At a meeting held in late 2010, subject matter experts (SMEs) met to discuss strategies to accelerate the progress towards national infection reduction goals. Since the 2010 meeting, several other large national meetings, as well as specific stakeholder meetings have taken place to build upon the strategies discussed at the 2010 meeting.

As the HAI Action Plan  is a living document, the Steering Committee released a new iteration of the HAI Action Plan (open for public comment from April-June 2012) that incorporates new research and information. The updated iteration will be released fall 2012.


In April 2011, HHS announced another way it is committed to patient safety:-Partnership for Patients (PfP). It is a new public-private partnership to make hospital care safer, more reliable, and less costly by:

  • Keeping hospital patients from getting injured or sicker. By the end of 2013, to decrease instances of patients acquiring preventable conditions while in hospitals by 40 percent compared to 2010.
  • Helping patients heal without complication. By the end of 2013, to decrease preventable complications during a transition from one care setting to another, so that the number of patients who must be re-admitted to the hospital would be reduced by 20 percent compared to 2010.