Hospital- or healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) are new infections that patients acquire as a result of healthcare interventions to treat other conditions. Estimates of prevalence of HAIs are difficult to compare between studies, due to differences in definitions used and means of data collection. Although some high-income countries have national surveillance systems for HAIs, there are fewer data available from low- and middle-income countries.
By Dr. Mercola
According to the 2011 Health Grades Hospital Quality in America Study, the incidence of medical harm occurring in the United States is estimated to be over 40,000 harmful and/or lethal errors each and every day.
Hospitals have become particularly notorious for spreading lethal infections. According to the most recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients.
In 2011, an estimated 722,000 patients contracted an infection during a stay in an acute care hospital in the US, and about 75,000 of them died as a result of it.
That amounts to just over 205 deaths from hospital-acquired infections every day of the year! More than half of all hospital-acquired infections were contracted outside of the intensive care unit. The most common hospital-acquired infections include:
- Central line-associated bloodstream infections
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
- Surgical site infections after surgery
- Clostridium difficile infections
Other infectious diseases can also easily spread in medical settings, where those who are actively ill mingle with others who have compromised immune systems. For example, in early February, a measles outbreak suddenly cropped up in the northern Manhattan area of New York City.
A New York epidemiologist blames the outbreak on medical workers' failure to control the contagion within their facilities. According to a recent New York Times report:
“Dr. Jay Varma, the health department's deputy commissioner for disease control, said the department's investigators were looking at whether some of the 20 confirmed cases, which are concentrated in northern Manhattan, might have resulted from exposure in medical facilities.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases and can be spread through airborne respiratory droplets even two hours after an infected person has left the room.
‘We know a number of people were exposed and possibly got their infection either at a doctor's office or at an emergency room where they went and it took more time than it should have for them to be put in an isolation area where they couldn't possibly infect anyone else,' Dr. Varma said.”
Low-Rated Hospitals Place Patients at Even Greater Risk
While rates of hospital-acquired infections appear to have declined—estimates from the 1970s through the 1990s hovered around two million each year, with an estimated 100,000 annual deaths—the idea that you have “only” a one in 25 chance of ending up with a potentially lethal infection any time you enter a hospital is certainly not a cause for celebration… As reported by Reuters:
“‘The trend, in magnitude, seems to be going in the right direction,' Dr. Mike Bell, deputy director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the CDC, told Reuters Health. Despite continuing concern about hospital-acquired infections, especially ones that are resistant to antibiotics, the US does not have a national system for collecting information on the problem.”
It's also important to realize that some hospitals are far riskier than others, and larger patient samples tend to reveal a greater magnitude of a problem. The featured CDC study analyzed just over 11,280 patient records from 183 hospitals in 10 states. (It's also worth noting that nursing homes, emergency departments, rehabilitation hospitals, and outpatient treatment centers were excluded.)
Meanwhile, HealthGrades, which provides quality ratings on nearly 5,000 American hospitals, analyzed approximately 40 million Medicare patients' records from 2007 through 2009 for its 2011 report, which found that one in nine patients developed a hospital-acquired infection!
According to this report, more than 164,470 inhospital complications could potentially have been avoided had all Medicare recipients from 2008 through 2010 gone to top rated hospitals for their procedures. On the average, you have a 54 percent lower risk of dying in a five-star rated hospital compared to the national average.
Clearly, it's quite possible to prevent a large portion of inhospital infections. Simple things like doctors and nurses washing their hands between each patient, for example, can go a long way toward controlling the spread of potentially lethal infections.
Another factor that can influence your relative safety risk is when you go into the hospital. As a general rule, avoid elective surgeries and procedures during the month of July because this is when brand new residents begin their training. According to a 2010 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, lethal medication errors consistently spike by about 10 percent each July, particularly in teaching hospitals, due to the inexperience of new residents. Also be cautious of weekends.
Hospital-acquired infections are caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens; the most common types are bloodstream infection (BSI), pneumonia (eg, ventilator-associated pneumonia [VAP]), urinary tract infection (UTI), and surgical site infection (SSI).