According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 25 patients will develop an infection while staying in a U.S. hospital. A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than 600,000 patients each year contracted infections and that more than 10% die from the infection.
While this sounds alarming, especially since these infections are preventable, USA Today reports that the infection rate appears to be going down. The current study analyzed 2011 data from 183 hospitals in 10 states, and showed a reduction from the last estimate conducted in 2007. The two studies used different methods, so they can’t be directly compared but the CDC believes does it reflect a real reduction due to concerted efforts.
Significant decline in infection rates were shown in areas including:
- 20% lower number of infections associated with 10 common surgeries
- 40% lower number of infections caused by the central lines inserted to deliver medicine or food
Not much improvement was shown in infections caused by bacteria that can cause diarrhea or even lead to death. Up to 250,000 patients each year contract Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and about 14,000 patients die from it. Bacteria like this present a challenge because the spores live on bed rails, linens, medical equipment, and people’s hands.
The CDC director issued a statement saying, in part, “The most advanced medical care won’t work if clinicians don’t prevent infections through basic things such as regular hand hygiene.”
Hospitals report that they are working to address this problem. Their solutions include creating procedures to improve hand washing, and to reduce antibiotic prescriptions – since C. diff most often affects patients taking antibiotics.
Can patients do anything to protect themselves while in a hospital? Yes, experts say. It may surprise some patients that they do have a right and can expect to inquire into their own safety.
Experts suggest these strategies:
- Ask medical staff to wash their hands
- Monitor use of catheters and other tubes; make sure you know why they’re needed and ask when they can be taken out
- If a doctor prescribes antibiotics, ask if that is really necessary and express your concerns
- Review your hospital’s infection control record on Hospital Compare
It is difficult sometimes to ask these questions of hospital staff, but the CDC affirms that patients have the right to do so and should try to be proactive in their own care and safety.