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An overview of nosocomial infections, including the role of the microbiology laboratory.

An estimated 2 million patients develop nosocomial infections in the United States annually. The increasing number of antimicrobial agent-resistant pathogens and high-risk patients in hospitals are challenges to progress in preventing and controlling these infections. While Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus remain the most common pathogens isolated overall from nosocomial infections, coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS), organisms previously considered contaminants in most cultures, are now the predominant pathogens in bloodstream infections. The growing number of antimicrobial agent-resistant organisms is troublesome, particularly vancomycin-resistant CoNS and Enterococcus spp. and Pseudomonas aeruginosa resistant to imipenem. The active involvement and cooperation of the microbiology laboratory are important to the infection control program, particularly in surveillance and the use of laboratory services for epidemiologic purposes. Surveillance is used to identify possible infection problems, monitor infection trends, and assess the quality of care in the hospital. It requires high-quality laboratory data that are timely and easily accessible.

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