Deadly hospital infections will rise unless changes are made

The CDC finds improved infection control and antibiotic prescribing could save 37,000 lives in five years

Published: August 10, 2015 09:15 AM

Each year an estimated 648,000 Americans develop infections during a hospital stay and about 75,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study from the agency concludes that hospitals need to make important changes or the rate of deadly hospital infections will continue to rise.

At some facilities far too many patients are being infected with dangerous bacteria according to a recent Consumer Reports’ analysis of more than 3,000 hospitals across the country.

How safe is your hospital? Use our hospital Ratings to find out. And see our complete guide to the dangers of antibiotic resistant bacteria and how to stop the spread of superbugs.

Reducing deadly hospital infections will require health care facilities to take two important steps according to the CDC. 

First of all, hospitals need to implement measures proven to keep patients safe. Careful attention to infection control measures and appropriate use of antibiotics can help hospitals prevent infections due to C. diff (Clostridium difficile)  and antibiotic-resistant bacteria—such as CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacaea) and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)—according to the CDC.

Second, hospitals need to coordinate with each other and with state and local health departments. That’s because even if a hospital is following all the recommended infection controls, deadly hospital infections can still spread as patients are transferred from other healthcare facilities that are less vigilant.

"If you're a hospital doing a great job but the hospital across town or the doctor down the street is not doing a good job, your patients are at risk,” says the CDC’s director, Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

That’s a common problem we found. “Our Ratings revealed big differences in infection rates between hospitals in the same community,” says Doris Peter, Ph.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

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For example, in Los Angeles some hospitals report few C. diff infections while others have rates that are much higher than average—all within a few miles of each other. And the difference in Brooklyn, New York was “striking,” Peters says. “One hospital was among our lowest rated hospitals for avoiding MRSA infections while another in the same area received high marks.”

If hospitals take steps to not only improve in-house, but also work with their health care community it would save both money and lives. “If we take immediate national action, we can prevent more than 600,000 antibiotic-resistant and C. Diff infections, prevent 37,000 deaths over five years, and also avert 7.7 billion dollars of direct medical costs due to these infections,” says Frieden.

Reas our special report, "How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick," to learn more about deadly hospital infections and what you can do to keep yourself safe.

—Teresa Carr


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