Needless, Deadly Peril at U.S. Hospitals

Former Lt. Governor, New York

Former Lt. Governor, New York

“Hospital infections kill more Americans each year than AIDS, car accidents and breast cancer combined — and researchers are searching for solutions.”

by BETSY MCCAUGHEY

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This week, a study of 153 Veterans Affairs hospitals shows that doing a simple swab test to identify and isolate the few patients carrying infection-causing bacteria can save lives. It’s called screening, but even more important is cleaning. Studies are rolling in that hospitals need to be cleaner.

Hospitals do an inadequate job of cleaning rooms — so germs left behind by past patients are lying in wait. Patients are at far greater danger of infection when placed in a hospital room where a previous patient had an infection. Hospitals won’t tell you who occupied the room before you.

Alarming research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (March 28) demonstrates that a patient’s risk of picking up the drug-resistant bug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is much higher if the previous occupant of the hospital room had it.

Being placed in a room where the last patient had Clostridium difficile, or C. diff for short, more than doubles the risk of getting that dreaded infection, according to a new study in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (March 2011). C. diff is the most common hospital infection in some parts of America.

Patients pick up invisible C. diff bacteria when they touch surfaces in their room, then eat a roll or cookie with their contaminated hands and swallow the bacteria along with the food.

C. diff causes life-threatening diarrhea — wreaking havoc in your gastrointestinal system unless you have enough powerful “good” bacteria in your system to keep the C. diff under control. But patients on antibiotics often lack good bacteria. Some hospitals are treating desperately ill patients by giving them fecal enemas.

Pretty awful. Especially when it could be avoided by keeping the patient’s room clean.

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