Toronto (March 7, 2005) - Today, University Health Network (UHN) expanded its Performance Measures section on the organization's internet page, with the addition of data collected on the most common hospital-acquired infections – Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci (VRE) and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile).

"The rates at UHN for hospital-acquired infections have little meaning at the moment because there are very few hospitals posting this information," said Tom Closson, President and CEO of University Health Network. "However, we hope that other organizations will follow suit so that patients and their families can make meaningful comparisons. Health care organizations could use the information to benchmark against best practices and develop Canadian benchmarks for hospital-acquired infection rates. If one hospital is doing an outstanding job, we should ask how they're doing it and follow suit so that we reduce infection rates across the system."

Hospitals have a challenging task when it comes to infections and infectious organisms. On the one hand, hospitals provide life-saving surgeries and procedures, but at the same time these surgeries, procedures, and treatments provide an ideal 'breeding ground' for antibiotic-resistant organisms. The organisms are then given the opportunity to infect individuals who may be immune-compromised because of disease or the treatments they are receiving.

"The general public frequently hears about hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA or VRE as if these were new 'plagues' in hospitals," said Dr. Michael Gardam, Director of Infection Prevention and Control. "In fact, some of these infectious agents have been with us for decades and the act of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics began with the discovery of penicillin. We are always concerned when we find these organisms in our hospitals, but surveillance and ordinary infection control precautions can usually deal with anything we discover."

Over the past few decades hospital stays for most treatments have shortened considerably. One of the many positive things that have come about as a result of this trend is a reduction in the length of time that most patients are exposed to the risks associated with hospital-acquired infections. For patients who remain in hospital for extended periods of time, it follows, not surprisingly that they are at increased risk for a hospital-acquired infection.

"One of the difficulties in interpreting this data is that the rates reflect all infections with no stratification of patients," said Dr. Gardam. "The risk of acquiring an infection while in hospital is affected by such factors as length of stay, the condition of the patient at time of admission, and the procedures which are carried out while in hospital. As an example, a transplant patient or someone on a heavy chemotherapy protocol is much more susceptible to acquiring an infection while in hospital than an otherwise healthy individual who comes in for elective surgery on their knee.

"Those of us who work in hospitals know that they are the only place to have serious, complicated and life-saving procedures and that the care delivered is absolutely necessary," said Dr. Gardam. "But when I talk to people about the best place to convalesce, I always tell them that home is the place to be if you can receive appropriate supportive care. You have little risk in your home of exposure to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that may be found in hospitals and that is a benefit from an infection control point of view."

About University Health Network

University Health Network is a major landmark in Canada's healthcare system, and a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. Building on the strengths and reputation of each of our three hospitals, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital, UHN brings together the talent and resources needed to achieve global impact and provide exemplary patient care, research, and education.

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