- ATLANTA (Reuters) - The rate at which patients pick up an infection while
being treated in a U.S. hospital has increased 36 percent in the past 20
years, U.S. health researchers said Wednesday.
- The number of patients who get an infection
while in the hospital has remained stable, even though fewer people are
being hospitalized and their hospital stays are shorter, Dr. William Jarvis
of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told researchers
at an international conference on emerging infectious diseases. ``Between
1975 and 1995, the nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infection rate increased
about 36 percent,'' Jarvis said. He said the figure was based on discharge
information from hospitals across the country. ``We estimate that today
2 million patients develop a hospital-acquired infection in the United
States each year. Of that number, 90,000 die as a result of those infections,''
Jarvis, acting director of the CDC's hospital infections program, told
- There were 9.77 hospital-acquired infections
per 1,000 patient-days in 1995, compared with 7.18 in 1975, Jarvis said.
He said the rate had risen in part because hospitals were using more invasive
procedures -- using breathing tubes and intravenous catheters, for example
-- to treat patients. ``Those are lifesaving but carry a risk of causing
a nosocomial infection,'' Jarvis said. Not only are hospital patients at
increased risk for infection but the infectious diseases are increasingly
resistant to drugs commonly used to treat them. ``In at least 70 percent
of the hospital-acquired infections that occur, the organism is resistant
to at least one antibiotic. In 35 to 40 percent of infections, the organism
is actually resistant to the best drug you would use to treat that organism,''
- Fred Tenover, also of the CDC's hospital
infections program, said drug resistance was an evolutionary process. ``It
is survival of the fittest. You are the most fit if you are a bacteria
and you are resistant to antibiotics,'' Tenover told the International
Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, sponsored by the CDC and the
American Society for Microbiology. One of the problems is that antibiotics
are overprescribed, Jarvis said. A University of Iowa study found that
use of vancomycin, a first-line drug used to combat serious staphylococcal
and enterococcal infections, had increased 200-fold but its use was unnecessary
in almost two-thirds of those cases.
- Overall, hospital infections could be
reduced if health-care workers would simply wash their hands more frequently,
researchers said. ``Patients or their family members should stop that physician,
stop that nurse, stop the clinician before touching them and say, 'Have
you washed your hands?''' Jarvis said. Jarvis said there would have been
an even larger increase in infections if hospitals had not adopted infection-control
programs during the past two decades. ``If they had not been in place,
we would probably have seen a 50 to 75 percent increase in infection rates,''