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Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are infections that are common among patients who seek medical care at a hospital, but anyone who visits a hospital could potentially contract an HAI, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Clostridium difficile (C-diff). People who unnecessarily take antibiotics for viral infections increase their risk of HAIs.  Antibiotics can help with bacterial infections but are not effective for viral infections. 

How do antibiotics work?

Bacteria and viruses cause the majority of illnesses in adults and children. While both bacterial and viral infections have similar symptoms, they work very differently. Treatment for an illness depends on whether you have a bacterial or a viral infection. Bacteria are living organisms and many bacteria in our system are “good” bacteria that can help us. Bacteria that are harmful cause illness and will continue to grow and reproduce. Antibiotics work by killing these organisms. Viruses are not alive and reproduce by invading living cells. Our immune system can sometimes fight off a virus on its own but some viruses, such as colds, need to run their courses before you get better.
When you take antibiotics, “good” bacteria are often killed off along with the “bad” bacteria. While this may be necessary to stop bacterial infections, taking antibiotics when you have a viral infection has no effect on the virus and may also kill off “good” bacteria. Over time, using too many antibiotics could make you that much more vulnerable to a stronger bacterial infection, such as an HAI.

How you can help Vermont keep HAI rates low

While Vermont does a better job of preventing HAIs compared to national rates, the inappropriate use of antibiotics to treat viral infections is at a higher rate compared to both national and New England rates. The graph below shows the percentage of adults who receive antibiotics for acute bronchitis, an infection that is viral 90 percent of the time. Vermont, in green, is starting to decrease the inappropriate use of antibiotics and we hope to see this trend continue.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is working with hospitals in the state to help maintain low HAI rates but, over time, the overuse of antibiotics could potentially increase HAIs in Vermont. One way that you can help keep rates for HAIs low in Vermont is by knowing when antibiotics can help. The CDC Get Smart campaign offers a chart to determine if you have an illness that is viral or bacterial. Learn more by clicking here.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont