June 6, 2005
One of the deadliest germs infecting U.S. hospitals is a staph bacteria called M.R.S.A., short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which lives harmlessly on the skin but causes havoc when it enters the body. Patients who do survive M.R.S.A. often spend months in the hospital and endure several operations to cut out infected tissue, says Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and the founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.
- In 1974, 2 percent of staph infections were from M.R.S.A.; by 1995, that number had soared to 22 percent.
- Today, experts estimate that more than 60 percent of staph infections are M.R.S.A.
Hospital infections can be stopped, but most hospital administrators have not made prevention a top priority, says McCaugey:
- More than half the time, doctors and other caregivers break the most fundamental rule of hygiene by failing to clean their hands before treating a patient.
- Nearly three-quarters of patients' rooms are contaminated with M.R.S.A., which, according to experts, can be found on everything from cabinets to bedside tables.
- Astoundingly, most hospitals in the United States don't routinely test patients for staph bacteria; studies show that 70 percent to 90 percent of patients carrying M.R.S.A. are never identified.
Infections erode hospital profits because rarely are hospitals fully paid for the added weeks or months that patients must spend in the hospital when they get an infection. Studies show that when hospitals invest in these proven precautions, they are rewarded with as much as tenfold financial return. These infections add about $30 billion annually to the nation's health costs. This tab will increase rapidly as more infections become drug-resistant, says McCaughey.
Source: Betsy McCaughey, "Coming Clean," New York Times, June 6, 2005.
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