NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 1, 2006

A hospital patient recovering from an illness or medical condition is an everyday occurrence. So, alas, is the chance -- estimated at 1 in 20 -- of that patient contracting an infection during the hospital stay, say observers.

These days, ordinary germs aren't the only problem for health care professionals. Even more disturbing for them is the tendency for microbes -- disease-causing organisms -- to mutate and become resistant to antibiotics.

All of which makes a hospital stay for the most vulnerable people in the population a risky business. There is even a special word to describe that risk. "Nosocomial," an adjective, refers specifically to infections contracted as a result of being hospitalized.

  • Such infections are said to cause 90,000 deaths annually, and estimates on the cost of treating survivors amount to more than $4.5 billion.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded $10 million to five medical centers to research new approaches to reducing infections in health care settings.
  • Seven states in the past four years have passed legislation mandating the reporting of infections.

A complex array of things are in place to decrease risk, say observers, some of which involve guidelines for handling invasive technology such as intravenous catheters that can reach into a patient's heart.

An ancillary reason for rising rates of infection is the fact that people who come into hospital are among the most highly vulnerable in the population, says Shmuel Shoham of the Washington Hospital Center. "Oftentimes their host defenses are breached. Then anything (medical personnel) do that isn't perfect puts them at risk."

Source: Ann Geracimos, "Infections: Clean hands first step in preventing transmission," Washington Times, May 30, 2006.


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