When you enter a hospital for surgery or other procedure, you expect that the ones taking care of you will do everything they can to keep you well. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), account for approximately 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths every year. That translates into a one in 17 chance of dying from an HAI—fairly unpleasant odds.
Of course, some of these infections could not possibly have been prevented. After all, a lot of people who go into the hospital are pretty sick, or dying. But at least one-third, and likely more, of all hospital-acquired infections can be prevented. Many of them occur because of simple precautions that are not followed by health care professionals. HAIs cost the U.S. between $5 and $10 billion annually in health care dollars.
The question of microbes is a serious one, because the costs and the stakes are high. If you acquire an infection after surgery, you will spend, on average, nearly an extra week in the hospital—6.5 days, to be exact. You will also be five times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital, and will be twice as likely to die. Additionally, surgical patients with HAIs are 60 percent more likely to be sent to the ICU. And none of this accounts for your additional pain and suffering, and your family’s worry.
All infections become deadly serious if the infecting microbe has significant antibiotic resistance. One example is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an increasing cause of VAP. Attention is being focused on preventing its transmission, and also the transmission of Clostridium difficile, a bacterium often caught by those who have had inappropriate antibiotic usage. C. difficile causes severe, sometimes life-threatening, diarrhea.
HAIs are not inevitable. Health care professionals can take several precautions that will help prevent them:
In South Carolina, the General Assembly passed a law in 2006 that requires the reporting of HAIs from selected procedures to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). For a hospital to be licensed to perform the procedures, they must comply with the Hospital Infections Disclosure Act (HIDA) reporting procedures. Surgical site infections, ventilator-assisted pneumonia, and central line bloodstream infections are among the infections that must be reported.
Remember that infections are not limited to hospitals. They can also occur in clinics, dialysis centers, and long-term care facilities.
Speaking up may be required. If you are shy about doing so, or are too sick to do so, you need someone with you who will ask questions about the following issues: