Fungal infections can enter the body and be spread through a hospital just like the other infections on this list. Catheters, surgical sites and examinations from hospital workers who haven't washed their hands loom as possible ways for fungal infections to occur. There are a few differences between fungal infections and viral or bacterial infections, however.
Fungi occur naturally in the environment. Patients with weak immune systems are most at risk, so if a doctor prescribes an antifungal medication, it's important to take it properly. Hospital cleanliness and ventilation are important, too [source: CDC]. But sometimes fungal infections can be transmitted in unexpected ways. An outbreak of a flesh-eating fungal infection, mucormycosis, at Children's Hospital in New Orleans was traced to improper handling of contaminated sheets and gowns. Ultimately, five patients died from the infection, and it was months before hospital officials determined the source of the outbreak [source: Urbina and Fink].
Parasites are less common in hospitals, but still a serious problem for people with vulnerable immune systems. Giardia, for example, spreads through the ingestion of cysts – contaminated food and improperly sterilized areas that have been in contact with patients' fecal matter are possible methods of transmission. Scabies could be one of the most unpleasant parasitic infections, caused by mites that spread by skin-to-skin contact. Patients with deficient immune systems can get crusted scabies, a highly contagious version in which the skin becomes crusted over with lesions that contain thousands of mites [source: CDC].
Author's Note: 10 Common Hospital-acquired Infections
I've been fortunate to have avoided spending much time in hospitals in recent years, so this topic wasn't really on my radar. Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are seriously scary, though. As a sci-fi fan, it's always tempting to look for apocalyptic worst-case scenarios, but fighting disease is a process – you really get a sense for the way procedures and methods are developed based on experience and research.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Parasites – Scabies: Workplace Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)." July 19, 2013. (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faq_workplace.html
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- Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Surgical Site Infections." (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/innovation_quality_patient_care/areas_expertise/infections_complications/SSI.html
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- Mayo Clinic. "Staph infections." June 11, 2014. (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/staph-infections/basics/symptoms/con-20031418
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- Urbina, Ian and Fink, Sheri. "A Deadly Fungus and Questions at a Hospital." The New York Times. April 28, 2014. (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/us/a-deadly-fungus-and-questions-at-a-hospital.html
- World Health Organization. "Prevention of hospital-acquired infections." (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/whocdscsreph200212.pdf
HowStuffWorks asks whether patients should ask doctors for reimbursement when they have to wait a long time to be seen.