The term nosocomial infection is derived from the Greek words “nosos” (disease) and “komeion” (to take care of) and refers to any infection that develops during or as a result of an admission to a hospital that was not incubating at the time of admission.1-4 The term healthcare-associated infection (HAI) is used to refer to infections associated with healthcare delivery in any setting (e.g., hospitals, long-term care facilities, ambulatory (e.g., dental) settings, and home).3,4

The use of the term HAI recognizes our inability to determine with certainty the geographic location of infection acquisition. It reflects the fact that patients may become exposed to or colonized by pathogens outside of healthcare settings, while they are moving among the various settings within the healthcare system, and that they may develop infections caused by pathogens to which they have been exposed to under conditions associated with the delivery of healthcare.

An overview of common pathogens (Table 1) associated with HAIs is presented with emphasis on their modes of transmission, clinical features, prevention, and medical management. While cross-infection (e.g., patient-to-patient, patient-to-provider, and provider-to-patient) with these pathogens does present a potential hazard to all healthcare personnel (HCP) and patients alike, the transmission of most of these organisms in the oral healthcare setting is rare.3,4

Table 1. Pathogens associated with putative HAIs.3,4

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) Influenza viruses
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MBT)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) Corynebacterium diphtheriae
Measles virus Clostridium tetani
Mumps virus Bordetella pertussis
Rubella (german measles) virus Neisseria meningitides
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) Streptococcus pneumoniae
Herpes simplex viruses types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)