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You go to the hospital to get well, not to catch a deadly infection, but in the US about one out of every twenty hospitalized individuals contracts an infection due to hospitalization. Infections acquired in hospitals are called nosocomial infections. About 2 million people contract nosocomial infections in the US every year.
More disturbing than the number of people who are injured or killed by hospital acquired infections is the fact that most of them could have been prevented. Ironically, hospitals stand to save a substantial amount of money by implementing practices which would avoid the infections, but most are too short-sighted to invest a little now to save lives, money, and their reputations, down the road.
The most common nosocomial infections are growing more and more resistant to common antibiotics. Examples include:
MRSA stands for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus. It is a type of staph infection which is resistant to common antibiotics, multiplies rapidly, and causes many different types of infections. While MRSA is becoming more common, most MRSA infections still occur in hospital settings and prisons.
Although skin infections are the most common problems associated with staph, MRSA can progress to infection of the bloodstream (septicemia), toxic shock syndrome, and necrotizing fasciitis.
Group A strep is the type of strep that causes sore throats, but can also cause scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, or pneumonia. Severe cases can involve toxic shock syndrome or necrotizing fasciitis.
Group B strep is the most common type of infection in newborns. It can result in pneumonia, meningitis, or brain damage, and lead to vision loss, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, or death. It can also affect pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions such as liver disease or diabetes.
About 10% to 35% of healthy adult women carry group B strep, but are not infected. These women can easily infect their babies during pregnancy or childbirth. Since no symptoms appear it is important that pregnant women be tested at the 35th to 37th week of pregnancy so that measure can be taken to protect the baby against infection.
Flesh Eating Bacteria (Necrotizing Fasciitis)
While it may sound like something out of a bad horror movie, necrotizing fasciitis (NF) is all too real and often results in amputation of a limb or death. Typically it enters through an open wound or broken or weakened skin, transferred by hands or objects which have been contaminated through something as minor as a sneeze, but occasionally no point of entry is identified.
NF can progress very rapidly, is often initially misdiagnosed, and is resistant to treatment. While it is rare, it kills about 30% of its victims. Those at a higher risk for incurring NF include people with weakened immune systems, people with chronic health problems such as diabetes or cancer, people who have recently had chicken pox, and steroid users.
Prevention of Hospital Acquired Infections
The potential for prevention has been proven. Denmark, Finland, and Holland used to have a similar rate of hospital acquired infections as those seen in the US, but through implementation of better hygiene and sanitation practices have reduced those rates to below 1 percent. Some hospitals in the US have had similar success, reducing drug-resistant infections by 85% or more, by implementing better practices.
These are fairly simple and seemingly obvious practices which include:
- Hand hygiene
- Thorough cleaning of equipment and rooms in between patient use
- Testing incoming patients for MRSA and other infections
- Taking extra precautions to avoid spreading bacteria from patients known to be infected to other patients by hands, gloves, clothing, equipment, and furniture
Hospitals have a duty to protect patients from cross contamination and infection. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a hospital acquired infection, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter today by calling (407) 712-7300.