One in 20 hospital patients in the U.S. contract an infection caused by the hospital itself. That's about two million people in American each year. Infections acquired in hospitals are called nosocomial infections. They can lead to amputations, organ loss, brain damage, and even death. Most nosocomial infections are preventable, yet they continue to occur.
Flesh eating bacteria
Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) is as frightening and disgusting as it sounds. Thankfully, it is rare, but it kills about 30% of its victims.
The bacteria can enter through an incision, an open wound, broken skin, or just weakened skin. It is transferred to the victim by dirty hands, dirty instruments or other contaminated objects, or through the air by a sneeze or cough.
Once NF enters the patient's body it progress quickly and is very resistant to treatment. Worse, it is often misdiagnosed, delaying treatment. Amputation and death are common outcomes of NF.
Those at highest risk for NF include those who:
ˇ Have weakened immune systems
ˇ Have chronic health problems such as diabetes or cancer
ˇ Have recently had chicken pox
ˇ Use steroids
MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is an anti-biotic resistant staph. Found most often in hospitals and prisons, it is growing more common outside of these settings.
MRSA progresses rapidly and can cause a number of problems including:
ˇ Severe skin infection
ˇ Septicemia (infection in the bloodstream)
ˇ Toxic shock syndrome
ˇ Necrotizing fasciitis
MRSA is one of a number of "superbugs" created by years of unnecessary antibiotic overuse, both in humans and agriculture, culminating in resistant strains of diseases.
Group A strep
Most people are familiar with group A strep - the kind that gives you a sore throat. When group A strep can lead to:
ˇ Scarlet fever
ˇ Rheumatic fever
ˇ Toxic shock
ˇ Necrotizing fasciitis
Group B strep
The most common infection affecting newborns, group B strep can cause: ˇ Meningitis
ˇ Brain injury
ˇ Cerebral palsy
ˇ Vision loss
ˇ Hearing loss
Elderly people, people with chronic health problems, and pregnant women are also susceptible to group B strep.
The majority of nosocomial infections are preventable. Some countries have managed to drive down the rate of hospital acquired infections, from rates similar to what we have here to less than one percent, by simply improving sanitation and screening practices.
Hospitals have a duty to protect patients from avoidable infections. Poor policies and inadequate sanitation practices are no excuse for failure to do so. Practices which have been proven to reduce nosocomial infection rates, and which you probably already expect from hospitals, include:
ˇ Screening incoming patients for infections, including MRSA
ˇ Taking precautions to prevent spreading disease from infected patients to others (by hands, gloves, equipment, clothing, furniture, etc.)
ˇ Cleaning rooms and equipment between patient use
ˇ Hand hygiene