Hospital Acquired Infections: Negligence Leads to Deadly Illness

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Most of us tend to think of hospitals as places of safety and security, yet the high likelihood of leaving with a dangerous hospital acquired infection (HAI) paints a very different picture of reality. Each day, one out of every 25 hospital patients will leave a medical care facility with a pathogen so potent that more than 10 percent of all infected patients will die as a result. Bacteria found in hospital settings may develop into pneumonia or infections of the blood, skin, urinary tract, a surgical site or beyond. In addition, pathogens found in medical care facilities tend to be more powerful than those in communal settings, with some being resistant to virtually all antibiotics; these are also known as noscomial infections. Despite their inherent dangers, hospital acquired infections are nearly 100 percent preventable when staff members pay close attention to sanitation, procedure and personal hygiene. Individual patients (and/or their advocates) can reduce the risk of hospital infection by paying close attention to the habits of medical caregivers and promptly speaking up for themselves if concerns arise.

Are the Benefits Greater Than the Risks?

Depending on the severity of your illness or condition, it is entirely possible that the risks of entering nearly any hospital in the country are greater than the benefits of whatever treatment you'll be receiving. In 2011 alone, hospital acquired infections claimed the lives of 75,000 people, a figure that is more than double the number of annual car crash fatalities! For patients on Medicare, the numbers are even more staggering, as these individuals suffer from nearly three times as many hospital infections as the general population. Healthcare acquired infections tend to be far more dangerous than community borne pathogens because of their noscomial nature; additionally, the weakened state of the majority of people in hospital settings creates a particularly deadly scenario which is often conveniently disguised from the public eye.

Prevalence and Types of Common Hospital Acquired Infections

Some of the most common diseases contracted in hospitals, in order of decreasing prevalence, include:

  1. Pneumonia. Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP)  impacts more than 150,000 people each year. Germs may be spread on the hands and/or clothing of healthcare workers, or in the case of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), patients become infected after using a breathing machine that was improperly cleaned.
  2. Surgical site infections. Another 150,000 annual HAIs occur after a patient has undergone inpatient surgery. In mild cases, only the skin at the incision site will become infected, yet more extreme cases can lead to bacterial growth within the organs and internal tissues of patients. Colon, hip and small bowel surgical patients are most commonly affected.
  3. Gastrointestinal illnesses. More than 120,000 cases of HAI related gastrointestinal illnesses were reported in the year 2011. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is often responsible for these illnesses, as such medications kill healthy bacteria found in the intestines and leave the patient vulnerable to stronger pathogens which may cause life-threatening diarrhea and/or other digestive disorders.
  4. Urinary tract infections (UTIs). When a urinary catheter is improperly sanitized, inserted incorrectly and/or left in place for an extended period of time, bacteria can travel up the catheter and into the bladder and/or kidneys. This type of medical negligence results in nearly 100,000 cases of catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) each year.
  5. Infections within the bloodstream. A particularly dangerous type of HAI can occur within the bloodstream if a tube inserted into a vein is not meticulously inserted or cleaned and/or if the device is not removed promptly after medication is delivered. More than 70,000 such incidents, known as central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), occurred in 2011.

Miscellaneous infections. An additional 100,000+ HAIs impacting patients' cardiovascular systems, reproductive organs, central nervous systems, bones, joints and beyond are reported after admission to a hospital setting each and every year.

Dangerous Noscomial Infections from Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Beyond the sheer number of Hopital Acquired Infections reported each year lies the growing concern surrounding antibiotic resistant bacteria, particularly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia which is known to spread throughout hospital settings. While there has been a general decline in certain categories of HAIs, MRSA has proven itself to be one of the greatest HAI related challenges within the medical community. Once a MRSA infected patient leaves a hospital, he or she is able to spread the bacteria within the general community, significantly increasing the inherent risks involved. Although proper sanitation techniques, including meticulous hand washing for both medical providers and patients alike, is critical in preventing the spread of MRSA, improved antibiotic stewardship is also essential to reduce antibiotic resistant bacteria over the long term. Since doctors are notorious for over-prescribing antibiotics, patients must become their own advocates (or bring along another person to act on their behalf). Rapid culturing of any suspected bacterial illness should be requested before accepting antibiotic therapy. When antibiotics are genuinely beneficial, patients should be given the lowest dose possible. Due to the high prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and their associated dangers, the over-prescription of antibiotic medications may be officially classified as medical negligence in the near future.

HAIs - Dangerous Yet Preventable Infections

While there has been some progress in the way of reducing certain types of hospital associated infections, hundreds of thousands of people continue to grow seriously ill each year as a result of one or more negligent acts on the part of medicals care givers. Lack of proper handwashing remains the primary reason for the spread of bacteria within hospital settings, bringing to light the critical nature of hygiene and sanitization. Simple procedural changes, such as using an electric shaver instead of a razor to prepare skin for surgery can drastically reduce the chances of infection, as razors tend to leave behind microscopic nicks which invite the entry of pathogenic bacteria. Marginally effective sanitizers, including glutaraldehyde solutions, are commonly used to clean medical devices such as colonoscopy scopes and should be upgraded to peracetic acid solutions, for example, to greatly increase the safety of many procedures requiring medical devices. The willingness of patients to hold their medical care givers accountable for improper actions will encourage more rapid positive change; if you or a loved one has developed a likely healthcare acquired infection, you may be entitled to receive compensation for a medical malpractice claim.

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