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Research suggests new dangers from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) for patients at risk of contracting infective endocarditis.

Many people understand the warning signs and danger of a heart attack.  But a lot of patients do not understand other forms of heart disease, such as infections of the heart muscle and its valves and tissues.

There are three primary types of infections that can impact or damage your heart, including:

  • Pericarditis: The pericardium is the sac of tissue that surrounds and encompasses the heart. This outer lining can be injured by infection, injury, and side effects of medication, among other causes.  Inflammation of the pericardium can cause sharp pain that can be mistaken for a heart attack or pleurisy (an inflammation of the tissue that lines the lungs and ribs).  Not usually serious by itself, pericarditis can clear on its own.
  • Endocarditis: Deep within the heart muscle, the endocardium is the protective tissue lining heart chambers and valves.  Infection is most often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by germs like fungus or virus.  Infective endocarditis is a serious condition which left untreated can cause permanent damage to the valves of the heart.
  • Myocarditis: Between the outer and inner tissue layers of the heart is the myocardium.  Although an unusual infection, myocarditis can be caused by infection that begins elsewhere in the body, and causes symptoms that resemble the flu.  Myocarditis can have serious impacts on health, but many milder cases clear without treatment.

Of these infections, infectious endocarditis is an emergent condition that can cause stroke, heart attack, and death.  Most people with a healthy heart muscle are not at high risk for infective endocarditis, yet there are a number of conditions that can predispose a patient to the infection, including:

  • Any problem of the heart valves, including mitral valve prolapse or a congenital heart condition
  • History of heart disease, or conditions of the heart muscle or valves, including valve replacement
  • Opioid and other types of drug abuse
  • History of Rheumatic Fever

For those at greater risk of endocarditis, a recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology reports that at-risk patients are suffering higher rates of infective endocarditis as a result of a hospital stay, as a secondary infection, instead of being the original cause of admission to a care facility.

What is the significance?

Bacterial endocarditis is caused by germs that commonly enter the body through the nose, mouth, or gut.  Because bacteria can enter the bloodstream through ordinary dental procedures, high-risk patients are prescribed antibiotics before dental procedures.

The new study, undertaken at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, suggests that there are new risk factors for this dangerous infection, including implanted heart devices, being on dialysis, IV drug abuse, and a chronically compromised immune system.

Researchers report that the number of patients hospitalized primarily for endocarditis since 2004 has decreased. However, the number of people who contract endocarditis within a hospital facility, as a result of exposure to staphylococcus bacteria, has increased in that same time.  Why?  Scientists say dental care and improved health care practices have decreased risk of infection outside a hospital, while staph populations inside hospital facilities have increased the risk to patients.

Infectious endocarditis is a serious development as a secondary infection for a hospitalized patient.  This study points to the growing danger of contracting deadly infections in hospitals where patients go for help—not to be hurt or killed by infectious germs that flourish in healthcare settings.

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