Infection Correction: Hospital-Acquired Infections Can Be Reduced Significantly or Even Eliminated with Sound Prevention Procedures

By Wolke, Anna | State Legislatures, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Infection Correction: Hospital-Acquired Infections Can Be Reduced Significantly or Even Eliminated with Sound Prevention Procedures


Wolke, Anna, State Legislatures


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After surviving a motorcycle crash in 2006, David Meyer--a healthy, active man in his 50s--never guessed that the broken ankle he suffered in the crash would be the least of his worries.

He underwent surgery for his ankle, endured four more operations, an intensive antibiotic program and debilitating pain--not because of the accident, but because of the two different infections he contracted while in the hospital. He blames the infections on the hospital's failure to follow standard hygienic practices.

Now, more than two and a half years after the accident, Meyer walks with a cane, works on a limited basis, experiences pain daily, and has a stack of medical bills he can't pay.

"This has been a disaster on a level that is so much worse than my initial accident," he says. "They should have treated my original injury in the hospital that day, done some follow-up therapy, and I should have been done. Instead, it's three years later and in the back of my mind I'm still terrified that this [infection] could come back."

Hospital-acquired infections, like those that hit Dave Meyer, were long believed to be a cost of doing business. Hospital patients often have weakened immune systems, making them naturally more susceptible to bacterial infections. Experts say these infections can be reduced significantly or even eliminated, however, if hospitals have sound prevention measures in place.

During the past five years, most states have passed laws requiring hospitals to collect and report infection rates. A handful of states have zeroed in on a particularly dangerous "superbug"--Methicillin-resistant Staphylcoccus aureus, or MRSA--and mandated that hospitals carry out certain MRSA prevention measures. Some of these states require high-risk patients to be screened for MRSA bacteria upon admission.

The effect of these infections on human lives and bottom lines is staggering. Lawmakers hope their efforts will increase knowledge about hospital-acquired infections, jump-start hospitals' adoption of prevention practices, inform the public about infection rates and decrease costs.

Dr. William Jarvis, who was with the Centers for Disease Control for 23 years and is a leader in hospital-acquired infection control, sees hospital-acquired infections caused by MRSA as a huge problem.

"If you look at health care-associated infections that are caused by multi-drug resistant organisms, MRSA is No. 1," he says. "MRSA is the one health care-associated infection that is in virtually every hospital in the United States. If you're going to pick one pathogen to go after, that would be the one."

INFECTIONS GROWING

Hospital-acquired infections--also known as health care-associated or nosocomial infections--develop when a patient is being treated in a health care facility for another condition.

In 2002, the estimated 1.7 million cases of hospital-acquired infections led to nearly 100,000 deaths. Treating the infections adds more than $20 billion to health care spending each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2007, treating a hospital-acquired infection cost, on average, $8,832 per patient/per admission.

Another factor of concern to states is the growing resistance of some infections to existing antibiotics. The effectiveness of antibiotics naturally diminishes with regular use, but overuse of the drugs accelerates this process. Drug-resistant bacteria can multiply and spread, and with fewer tools left to fight them, the infections they cause are increasingly difficult to treat.

Compounding the problem is that few new antibiotics are being developed. The rate of new antibiotics approved by the Food and Drug Administration has dropped consistently since 1980. Only about six new drugs are pending approval from the agency.

MRSA, the drug-resistant form of staph, killed more than 18,000 people in 2005--more than the number who died from AIDS. …

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