When we visit the hospital, we don’t expect to be released with more problems than when we checked in. But that’s a very real possibility, according to a sobering new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, says that if 25 patients enter a hospital for treatment, at least one of them is statistically likely to acquire an infection, including a potentially deadly one.
The 2011 study by the CDC found that of the 4 percent of hospital patients who acquired infections, about 11 percent of those died–a statistical chance of death of a little less than one half of 1 percent.
And although the numbers are down from previous statistics, the study is still cause for concern, one expert says.
“While this information is helpful, it sends a clear signal that much more needs to be done to reduce the rate of hospital infections. We need new germ-killing technologies, including new vaccines that will target common hospital infections,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.
He is also the author of the book “Rising Plague,” which addresses the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections, a problem caused in part due to an increased reliance on antibacterial products everywhere we go.
According to the study, the most common infections are pneumonia, surgical site infections, gastrointestinal infections, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections.
Spellman suggests that U.S. officials begin tracking infections as they do in Europe so that patients can make informed choices about where they seek their healthcare.
Also, “we need to do as much as we can to prevent hospital admissions and make hospital stays as short as possible so patients can avoid getting hospital infections in the first place,” Spellberg said. None of these steps will make much of a difference, though, if creating new antibiotics is not accompanied by changes in the way some illnesses are treated to slow what Spellberg calls “the continuing upward trajectory of antibiotic-resistant infections. To do anything less invites a bleak post-antibiotic future, in which infectious diseases once again reign supreme.”
Previous studies have said that even with procedures in place to prevent infections related to medical equipment–bloodstream infections associated with central lines, ventilator-associated pneumonia and catheter-associated urinary tract infections–many of those procedures aren’t carefully followed, putting patients at risk.
In January of this year, as many as 18 patients at North Carolina’s Forsyth Medical Center may have been exposed to the rare but deadly Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a degenerative brain disorder.
According to officials, a neurological procedure was performed on a patient who was later diagnosed with the disease, and the equipment used during the procedure was later used on 18 others. Although the equipment underwent standard sterilization procedures, Creutzfeldt-Jakob requires advanced sterilization techniques.