The number of patients who are contracting Covid-19 after being admitted to hospital is on the rise again and a source of serious concern, the HSE said yesterday.
Professor Martin Cormican, the HSE lead overseeing infection control, said to date around one in 1,000 patients overall has become infected in hospital.
This means the risk is low, but it must be brought down, he said.
The numbers increased in the week up to November 8, with 100 hospital-acquired infections diagnosed, up significantly on the previous week.
The main areas of concern in hospitals relate to patients in emergency care.
There are more controls over patients admitted for non-emergency procedures and out- patient appointments.
It comes as hospitals in Limerick, Ennis, Naas and Letterkenny are fighting outbreaks that have led to 450 staff absences. Most of them are not infected but are close contacts.
Prof Cormican said hospital staff are under enormous pressure and may have to wash their hands 10 times in an hour.
One lapse in a 12-hour shift may be enough to pass on the virus, he said, acknowledging the extraordinarily difficult work of health staff.
"We have to deliver the care and manage the risk," he said.
The virus can be introduced by patients, staff or visitors, so people should not go near a hospital if they have symptoms unless they need to be treated.
Patients are now tested as they come in, and due to this "we find people we may not have found before", Prof Cormican said.
New infections always tend to spread in healthcare settings and the infrastructure can add to the challenges.
There is also a natural tendency after a stressful shift to meet healthcare colleagues as part of natural camaraderie, but this presents a risk.
"The numbers can go up quickly if you have a large hospital outbreak," Prof Cormican added.
"We are doing what we can to get the numbers down."
Unlike earlier in the pandemic, once a hospital-acquired infection is detected, the facility goes looking for other cases who may be asymptomatic.
Prof Cormican stressed that "a hospital is still the safest place to be" and people should not be put off getting the medical care they need.
He pointed out there is now better use of antibiotics, with support from pharmacists and nurses.
Cases of the superbug CPE appear to have stabilised, but they are still too high.
Speaking at yesterday's HSE briefing, Chief Operations Officer Anne O'Connor said the number of nursing homes in the "red zone" and getting intensive support from the HSE had risen to 10.
Twenty-five others are getting significant support.
There are 105 outbreaks of Covid-19 in nursing homes but most are well-managed.
HSE chief Paul Reid said the testing of workers in mink farms and their household contacts had taken place and none had tested positive.
Meanwhile, the numbers of people attending hospital for non-Covid care is also increasing, although it is down on this time last year.
The HSE believes a higher level of home support is contributing to the reduction, but there are concerns that some people are not attending due to Covid-19 fears.
Prof Cormican said the same advice applies to reduce contact as much as possible.
He urged people to "hold on for the next few months" when hopefully the "cavalry" - in the form of a vaccine - will arrive.