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Hospitals work to cut spread of infections

February 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
One thing people on both sides of the health care debate agree on is the need to reduce hospital infections.At least 30,000 patients die each year from hospital acquired infections, like central-line infections. A Consumer Reports analysis reveals that hospitals that follow hygienic steps have virtually eliminated these infections. Yet many other hospitals are still failing to act.

When Carol Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2008, she had no idea it would be from infections she contracted in the hospital that would have her fighting for her life -- including one from a central-line catheter. She says her daughter saw something had gone very wrong.

"She saw me laying there looking dead," said Bradley.

She spent about three weeks in intensive care and was on antibiotics for more than a year.

In intensive care units, central-lines can be essential to treatment. These long, flexible catheters can quickly deliver vital medication, nutrition and fluids. But they can just as quickly deliver deadly bacteria into the bloodstream.

"For years hospitals considered these infections an unavoidable risk in intensive care, but we know now that simple hygiene measures can reduce or even eliminate them," said Consumer Reports' Nancy Metcalf.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2006 showed a 66 percent reduction in central-line infections after hospitals implemented five simple precautions, which included washing hands before and after examining a patient or touching the catheter; disinfecting the patient's skin; and wearing protective masks, caps, sterile gowns, and gloves.

"Our analysis of 926 hospitals in 43 states found that some hospitals have virtually eliminated these infections," said Metcalf.

"For the last three years we did not have any central-line infections," said Dr. Parveen Rudraraju, Northern Westchester Hospital.

Northern Westchester Hospital in New York is one of 105 hospitals in Consumer Reports' analysis that have reported zero ICU central-line infections.

"If I went to the hospital again, I would try and make sure I had family available around the clock to make sure everyone did do good hand washing," said Bradley.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims 1.7 million people contract infections in U.S. hospitals each year. But experts say the data shows the actual number may be several times higher. Researchers say about 900,000 people contract Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) every year.