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Hospital Infections Cause 90,000 Deaths Per Year

From Pneumonia to Norovirus: How Infections Have Become a Major Problem in US Hospitals

WASHINGTON, DC -- February 9, 2007 -- Every year, five to ten percent of patients in hospitals come down with serious infections while being treated for other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This translates to an estimated two million infections, 90,000 deaths, and $4.5 billion in excess health care costs annually.

The recent outbreak of norovirus in hospitals and nursing homes points to how serious the problem can be. A group of many related viruses, norovirus causes extreme diarrhea, vomiting, cramps and fever. In otherwise healthy people, a norovirus infection may be a 24-48 hour horror. However, in sick hospital patients suffering from weak immune systems and major illnesses, norovirus can be deadly, especially if it results in dehydration.

In addition to norovirus, transmitted diseases in hospitals range from other gastrointestinal infections to pneumonia to hepatitis. The list is lengthy. It includes certain "staph" or bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics. These "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus" or MRSA infections are more common among patients who undergo major surgeries or who have weak immune systems. The infections are easily spread by hand contact when a hospital worker moves from an infected patient to another patient.

Ways to Prevent Infections

What can be done to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals? Some simple procedures go a long way towards a solution, according to CDC standards:

  • Surgeons, nurses, nurses aides and hospital staff must wash their hands thoroughly and frequently with soap or use alcohol-based hand rubs.
  • Gloves can be helpful in cutting down on infection, although they do not replace hand-washing.
  • Patient equipment should be properly washed and sterilized.
  • Hospital personnel must routinely clean and disinfect beds, bed rails, bedside equipment, and other surfaces that get touched often.

Unfortunately, too many busy hospitals become lax about these basic hygiene procedures, according to Betsy McCaughey, head of the nonprofit group, Committee to Prevent Infectious Deaths, and a former lieutenant governor of New York. She believes that secrecy is mostly to blame, since hospitals are required to make their infection rates public in only some states. Shedding light on high hospital infection rates would give facilities extra incentive to correct these problems, she says.

For more information about hospitals and infection, see Infection Control in Healthcare Settings on the CDC web site. For a consumer viewpoint about this issue, see the web sites of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and Consumers Union.

Brayton Purcell is concerned about the safety and effectiveness of hospital care. For over 24 years, we have been helping clients protect their legal rights in the face of devastating losses such as illness, injuries, and harm to family members. If you feel that you have been injured through negligence or malpractice by a doctor or hospital, please feel free to contact us for a free evaluation of your potential case.

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