APIC (Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology) is holding its annual meeting this week, and today published the results of its latest findings on the number of people who die from MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and other HAIs (hospital acquired infections). These are superbug staph infections, usually acquired by hospital patients, but sometimes transmitted in the community as well. Superbugs are called such because they have developed a resistance to drugs — nothing can kill them.
That means — once a patient contracts a MRSA infection, s/he usually can’t get rid of it. S/he will be infected for the rest of his/her life.
Bottom line? Between 48,000 and 119,000 patients per year may be acquiring these infections. That represents 46 per 1,000 patients. These numbers are much higher than previously believed, and higher than reported in previous studies. In particular, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had previously reported only 3.9 deaths per thousand.
If I’m doing my own math correctly, that means that the REAL rate is 120 times WORSE than what we thought?
And the thing that ticks me off about this the most? These infections are PREVENTABLE! If the proper precautions are taken in hospitals, then there is no reason why patients should acquire staph infections in the hospital. None.
And do you know what the proper precautions consist of? In most cases… simply washing one’s hands. The bugs are most often transferred from a healthy person to a sick person. Most of us have MRSA bugs living in our noses and we have no symptoms or illness from them. But people who have compromised immune systems (either they have an open wound, just had surgery, an auto-immune disease, a catheter inserted for a long time, or are elderly and probably frail) — they pick up the bugs from us healthy people and the bug has a field day. Tens of thousands of them die.
VERY interesting way they did this research… 10,000 infection-control practitioners, including doctors and nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers, were asked to document ONE day (last fall, between October and November). A snapshot in time. They counted the known cases of MRSA in their institutions. 1,200 hospitals and 100 nursing homes and rehab centers, representing all 50 states, submitted results.
(Hmmm…. I wonder why the others didn’t participate? Is it possible they were afraid their rates were too high and someone would find out about it? does that make it possible that even these numbers are too low?)
I know of two family friends who acquired infections in hospitals — then died. In both cases, their causes of death were listed as what they were admitted with. In both cases, my sense and intuition tell me that they would have survived had they not acquired those HAIs.
Knowing what you know about how infection spread can be avoided, think of it this way: if one nurse or one doctor had bothered washing his or her hands, then my friends might not have died.
By my own observation, I have seen how lax health care providers are about hygiene. Other studies have been undertaken to document how little regard practioners have for concientiously keeping their hands sanitized and clean. I’m sure it’s a pain in the catoochie to have to wash and sanitize before touching every patient… but… when it can mean the difference between life and death? Seriously.
Sharp patients know to watch out for violations when they must be in the hospital. Ask providers to wash their hands, and use sanitizer, at every turn. Don’t be embarrassed to ask! Even if you are a visitor, you need to know you can transmit the bugs. Be sure to clean bed rails, TV remotes, telephones — anything you touch that the patient also touches. Be diligent, because it can mean the difference between life and death.
More guidelines can be found here: hospitalinfection.org
APIC does a good job of suggesting their own steps and precautions for hospitals and other facilities to begin cutting the spread of HAIs. What we know, from past experience, is that too many of these facilities don’t care to stop those infections.
Why? Because their perception is that it will be too expensive to stop the infection madness. They think they are saving money by not setting themselves up to stop the infection to begin with. And they think they are making more money because patients have to stay in the hospital longer. And their perception is THEIR reality.
Neither of those statements is true, according to previous APIC studies.
How sad, that the REAL cost of HAIs is the loss of lives AND affects their wallets. Why can’t they hear that message?