Approximately one in 25 patients will contract at least one infection during their stay in the hospital. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the number of hospital acquired infections has dropped slightly since 2011, according to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011 about 4 percent of patients developed an infection while in the hospital. That number is now down to 3.2 percent (2015 data). (The CDC’s findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, November 1, 2018.)
Hospitals are increasingly being evaluated based on their infection rates, an incentive for them to be more aggressive in fighting hospital acquired infections. First of all, “hospitals are setting more rigorous hygiene standards, focusing on commonplace equipment such as stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, which can collect bacteria and potentially transmit disease” (The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2018). “Medical centers have stepped up efforts to get doctors to clean their hands thoroughly [and some] institutions are trying ultraviolet cleaning systems while others have turned to copper [bed rails] which some believe reduces bacteria.”
One of the big worries today is computer keyboards, says Dr. Michael Parry, director of infectious diseases at Stamford Health in Stamford, Connecticut. Stamford Health has placed a computer in every patient room so that doctors and other hospital staff can access the patient’s records. “That way,” says Dr. Parry, “you aren’t taking the computer from room to room and spreading germs.”
Even therapy dogs, used to comfort hospitalized children, are now under suspicion. In an unpublished study, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore “discovered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a six times greater chance of coming away with superbug bacteria than kids who spent less time with the animals. But the study also found that washing the dogs before visits and using special wipes while they’re in the hospital took away the risk of spreading the bacteria” (Associated Press, October 7, 2018).
The CDC’s recently released study points out that the slight drop in hospital acquired infections, when compared to the last study done in 2011, is mainly due to “reductions in the prevalence of surgical site and urinary tract infections.” Despite the decrease in surgical-site infections, it remains one of the major causes of hospital associated infections. The authors also reported that “the prevalence of healthcare-related pneumonia and Clostridium difficile [gastrointestinal infections] did not decline significantly during the period studied” (Medpage Today, 10/31/18).
Although the trend is in the right direction, the CDC team is cautious about predicting further progress. Additional improvements are unlikely, they say, unless hospitals come up with better strategies to reduce hospital acquired pneumonias and C. difficile infections.