Infectious Diseases - Quality of Care
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Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases are disorders caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Microorganisms that cause disease are collectively caused pathogens.

While many organisms live in and on humans, and are normally harmless or even helpful, some can cause disease under certain conditions. They do so either by disrupting the body's normal processes or by stimulating the immune system to produce a defensive response, resulting in high fever, inflammation, and other symptoms.

Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, coughing, sneezing, and other methods. Others are transmitted from insect or animal bites, or by ingesting contaminated food or water or other environmental exposures.  Learn more.

VA’s Major Infectious Diseases Accomplishments:

  • 1946: Developed and tested effective therapies for tuberculosis through multicenter clinical trials that led to the development of the VA Cooperative Studies Program
  • 2005: Demonstrated the effectiveness of a new vaccine for shingles, a painful skin and nerve infection affecting older adults
  • 2011: Published findings showing a 60 percent or greater decrease in MRSA infections from a VA-wide infection control initiative
  • 2014: Learned that treatment for pneumonia that included the antibiotic azithromycin (Zithromax) was associated with a significantly lower risk of death and a slightly increased risk of heart attack
  • 2015: Found that patients who received antiretroviral therapy within a year of their infection were half as likely to develop AIDS, compared with those who waited longer
  • 2016: Determined that a hospital infection-control program aimed mainly at methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can also significantly reduce transmission of bacteria that cause infections such as pneumonia, blood infections, surgical infections, and meningitis.

Below is a news story that illustrates VA’s commitment to advancing technology and research initiatives to benefit our nation’s Veterans.

Karen Curtis, with Environmental Services at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, cleans a patient room in the hospital’s intensive care unit. (Photo by Mitch Mirkin)Karen Curtis, with Environmental Services at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, cleans a patient room in the hospital’s intensive care unit. (Photo by Mitch Mirkin)

VA-CDC collaborate to ramp up fight against infectious diseases

Dr. Nasia Safdar has long been interested in finding ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. The epidemiologist is confident that many health care infections can be prevented by staff and patients adhering to basic practices, such as proper personal hygiene, and keeping the workplace clean.

Now, Safdar is the lead investigator on one of her most ambitious studies. It’s aimed at developing a solid plan for VA facilities to prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, with a focus on cleaning patient rooms. All of those pathogens can cause infectious diseases.

"We want the cleanest environment possible. We want to give the fewest number of antibiotics possible."

“Environmental cleaning is a key principle of infection prevention in health care settings,” says Safdar, a scientist at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. “Contaminated surfaces play a major role in transmitting pathogens, including Clostridium difficile, and antibiotic-resistant organisms, such as Staphylococcus aureus. Proper disinfection of hospital surfaces and equipment that patients and medical personnel touch is critical to reducing exposure.”  Read more.