Monday, January 09, 2006

4th Largest Killer in the U.S.

An estimate 90,000 deaths a year. Sounds like it has to be heart disease, or car accidents, or cancer, but it's not. It's fatal infections acquired during a hospital stay! For the most part, this is happening for two reasons; 1) lack of sanitary habits by hospital employees and 2) because more and more germs are becoming antibiotic or drug-resistant. For example, in 1974, only 2 percent of staph infections were drug-resistant. By 2003, 3 of 5 staph infections were drug-resistant or 70 percent of hospital-acquired infections are caused by drug-resistant germs.

For most of us across America, we cannot even find out the statistics for these infections should we need to go to the hospital. Only Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania requires hospitals to publicly report their infection rates. Ohio might have been the 5th, but alas, the bill was rewritten to set aside infection reporting for now. As you can imagine, the Ohio Hospital Association was against this bill and got the House Health Committee to remove this portion of the bill. It only requires average charges for the top 60 procedures, average length of stay, and re-admission, complication and death rate. By doing this, the death rate would be attributed to the specific procedure, not the infection that may have caused it.

There are four infections that occur most often. The first is a form of staph infection called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is most responsible for sepsis (bloodstream infection), wound infections and dialysis-related infections. Pneumonia is another. This usually occurs in patients who have had surgery or illness requiring the use of a ventilator. It is also one of the deadliest, killing between 20 percent and 33 percent of those it infects. Another is a urinary tract infections. These occur most often in patients requiring the use of a catheter. It is also the least dangerous of the infections. Lastly, there is Clostridium difficile or C. diff. This is the leading cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea that can lead to conditions as serious as a strain of bacterium that causes severe symptoms which may eventually require surgical removal of the colon.

What is the simplest way to have the rate of infections to plummet? Hospital staff and doctors simply need to wash their hands more often and more completely! Proof of this comes from a Swiss hospital who increased hand washing and just that caused their infection rate to go from 16.9 percent to 9.9 percent and for drug-resistant infections to be cut from 2.2 percent to 0.9 percent.

So, the next time you have to go to see your doctor or to the hospital, make sure your doctor and nurses (and anyone else who may be in your room) wash their hands thoroughly! Also, send a message to your state congressmen and harrass them until they pass a bill requiring that the infection statistics be made public. If the statistics are made public, hospitals are more likely to demand that their employees all wash their hands more thoroughly! Isn't that sad? The necessity to pass a bill that for all intents and purposes will force hospital staff to wash their hands!

Information from Akron Beacon Journal

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