Healthcare-associated infections in neonatal units: lessons from contrasting worlds

J Hosp Infect. 2007 Apr;65(4):292-306. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2007.01.014. Epub 2007 Mar 12.


Neonatal intensive care units are vulnerable to outbreaks and sporadic incidents of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). The incidence and outcome of these infections are determined by the degree of immaturity of the neonatal immune system, invasive procedures involved, the aetiological agent and its antimicrobial susceptibility pattern and, above all, infection control policies practised by the unit. It is important to raise awareness of infection control practices in resource-limited settings, since overdependence upon antimicrobial agents and co-existing lack of awareness of infection control is encouraging the emergence of multi-drug-resistant nosocomial pathogens. We reviewed 125 articles regarding HAIs from both advanced and resource-limited neonatal units in order to study risk factors, aetiological agents, antimicrobial susceptibility patterns and reported successes in infection control interventions. The articles include surveillance studies, outbreaks and sporadic incidents. Gram-positive cocci, viruses and fungi predominate in reports from the advanced units, while Gram-negative enteric rods, non-fermenters and fungi are commonly reported from resource-limited settings. Antimicrobial susceptibility patterns from surveillance studies determined the empirical therapy used in each neonatal unit. Most outbreaks, irrespective of the technical facilities available, were traced to specific lack of infection control practices. We discuss infection control interventions, with special emphasis on their applicability in resource-limited settings. Cost-effective measures for implementing these interventions, with particular reference to the recognition of the role of the microbiologist, the infection control team and antibiotic policies are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection* / etiology
  • Cross Infection* / microbiology
  • Cross Infection* / prevention & control
  • Developing Countries*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / microbiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases* / etiology
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal / classification*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Risk Factors