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Hospital-Acquired Infections: Unacceptable and On the Rise

Have you ever had to go to the hospital? Perhaps you had some sort of surgery, or maybe your hospital trip involved being admitted as a pregnant woman and released with a new bundle of joy! Regardless of your reason for going to the hospital, it’s unlikely that you would expect to go to the hospital and end up getting sicker. Unfortunately, that is happening more and more these days. In fact, sometimes what you can “catch” at the hospital is far worse than your original reason for being there. Keep reading for more information on this disturbing trend.

Even more disturbing is the infections that people receive from the hospital are commonly drug resistant and lethal. The bacteria in these types of infections replicate and mutate aggressively so that even the most potent antibiotics will not kill them. 

Listed below are some of the common strains of lethal bacteria found in hospitals:

Methicllin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – This strain of lethal staph infection accounts for approximately 120,000 hospital infections per year. Patients can die within days of being infected.

Psedomonas aeruginosa – This deadly strain of bacteria causes lower respiratory infections. Nearly 18 percent of patients in the hospital acquire pneumonia. It is incredibly resistant to antibiotics.

Klebsiella pneumoniae – This bacteria infects the urinary tract, bloodstream and gut with a lethal hospital-borne bug.  Of the reported cases, infections are up 50 percent in the last five years and there is a 66 percent mortality rate in untreated patients.

Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE) – This strain is responsible for 10 percent of all hospital infections. The blood, urinary tract and wounds are infected by these bacteria. Patients with weak immune systems are particularly susceptible to infection.

Clostridium difficile – This often fatal infection is linked to 400,000 cases of severe diarrhea each year. New mutations of this bacterium produce 20 times the toxin of the old version.

To date, the federal government has not developed sufficient guidelines to prevent hospital-acquired infections.  And, perhaps even more disturbing is that there are no regulations in place forcing hospitals to follow standards to reduce the number of infections.  This is according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was released on Wed. April 16, 2008 and Medical News Today in an April 18 article.

This report was released during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.  The report offered two recommendations.  They are:

  • HHS (Health and Human Services) should set "priorities" among hundreds of suggestions that the CDC has made to prevent infections and incorporate them into requirements for participating in Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Divisions of the department should be more collaborative in collecting and sharing data on hospital-acquired infection rates.

A shocking number of people have died from hospital-acquired infections, nearly 90,000 annually, according to the Consumers Union.  And, an additional 1.9 million people acquire infections from the hospital and are treated.  According to the Baltimore Sun and Medical News Today, the deaths alone account for $5 billion in healthcare spending.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Medicare has not established enough standards for the hospital to prevent infections.  The standards that they do have in place are vague.   The CDC has recommended 1,200 practices for preventing infections.  Five hundred of these 1,200 are strongly recommended. 

The GAO recommends that staff wash their hands, increase the use of antibacterial coated devices and ensure that operating rooms are properly ventilated.

Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, states, "It feels like you're trying to walk through mud when you get volumes of recommendations."   According to the report, the industry and physician groups offer more specific guidelines, such as requiring staff to receive influenza vaccines.

Federal officials have acknowledged the shortcomings that are outlined in the report.  They have said they are working to fix many of the problems, such as data collection of hospital-acquired infections. 

The CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has stated that they will no longer pay for the treatment of infections that are acquired from hospitals.  Don Wright, deputy assistant secretary at HHS, at the hearing said, "We will make every effort to move forward with the recommendations as proposed by GAO." (CQ Today, 4/16)

Hopefully hospitals will start to recognize this increasing problem and the next time you go to the hospital, you are treated for what you went in for – and not something more dangerous!

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