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Battling Hospital-Acquired Infections

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

One big problem that plagues hospitalized patients who are trying to get well is getting a hospital-acquired infection. Those infections can be deadly, but a few simple steps are helping reduce the infection rates at a local hospital.

Every year nearly a million people go into the hospital for one problem and end up with another, often acquiring a nasty, sometimes even deadly, hospital infection.

Dr. Michael Gropper, M.D.: "Hospital-acquired infections are a major problem. There are thousands of deaths a year across the United States and in an institution like ours, probably tens to twenties of deaths, possibly, per year."

Those alarming statistics have motivated many hospitals like UCSF to take a proactive approach to reducing hospital infections.

It begins with the obvious -- handwashing. In the ICU everyone uses alcohol hand washing gel when entering a patient's room and again before leaving.

Next comes ventilators. ICU patients often develop pneumonia from respiratory ventilators, which help them breathe.

Dr. Michael Gropper, M.D.: "The longer you're on the ventilator, the more likely you are to have an infection. It's a risk of about three to five percent a day."

The staff works to get patients off ventilators quickly and takes a simple precaution to reduce fluid in the lungs.

Dr. Michael Gropper, M.D.: "We actually just tilt the head of the bed up in every patient in the ICU. And in fact it's a standing order."

One of the biggest problems comes from what is called a Central Venous Catheter and it's sued in about 75 percent of patients in an intensive care unit. It's inserted through the neck or the chest and it ends up near the heart. Different ports allow for multiple medications to be administered at the same time.

Dr. Michael Gropper, M.D.: "If you get an infection with one of these devices, it's very serious. You can get a blood stream infection, you can get an infection in your heart valve."

Gary Smithson, Accident Victim: "The only thing I remember about, about the collision is 'bam.'"

As bad as the accident was, Gary Smithson is in a wheelchair today because of a catheter infection he picked up in the ER.

Gary Smithson, Accident Victim: "They put a catheter in, and it came back positive."

Positive for an infection Gary will have for the rest of his life.

UCSF is tackling the problem by inserting venous catheters in a sterile environment with medical personnel completely gowned and patients covered head to toe with a sterile drape. The result: catheter related bloodstream infections have been cut in half, with none in their ICU for the past 71 days.

It's simple strategy that's working to cut infections and ultimately save lives.

Only fourteen states require mandatory reporting of hospital infections. So far, California is not one of them.

For more information, click here.

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