Combating deadly hospital infections

February 4, 2010 6:07:02 PM PST
They're hospitals' dirty and deadly little secret - central-line bloodstream infections. At least 30-thousand patients die each year from them.

A Consumer Reports analysis of newly released data reveals hospitals that are following simple hygienic steps have virtually eliminated these infections - but all too many others are failing to act.

When Carol Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2008, she had no idea it would be infections she contracted in the hospital that would have her fighting for her life - including one from a central-line catheter.

She says her daughter saw something had gone very wrong.

"She saw me laying there looking dead," Bradley said.

Carol spent about three weeks in intensive care and was on antibiotics for more than a year.

In intensive-care units, central lines can be essential to treatment. Long, flexible catheters can quickly deliver vital medication, nutrition, and fluids. But they can just as quickly deliver deadly bacteria into the bloodstream.

"For years hospitals considered these infections an unavoidable risk in intensive care. But we know now that simple hygiene measures can reduce or even eliminate them," Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports said.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine in December of 2006 showed a 66 percent reduction in central-line infections after hospitals implemented five simple precautions. These included washing hands before and after examining a patient or touching the catheter ? disinfecting patient's skin ? and wearing protective masks, as well as caps ? sterile gowns ? and gloves.

"Our analysis of 926 hospitals in 43 states found that some hospitals have virtually eliminated these infections," Metcalf said.

"For the last three years we did not have any central-line infections," Dr. Parveen Rudraraju of Northern Westchester Hospital said.

Northern Westchester Hospital in New York is one of 105 hospitals in Consumer Reports' analysis that have reported zero I-C-U central-line infections.

"If I went to the hospital again, I would try to make sure I had my family available around the clock to make sure everyone did do good hand washing," Bradley said.

The federal government called on hospitals last summer to reduce intensive-care central-line infections by 75 percent over the next three years. Consumer Reports says public disclosure of hospital infection rates is important and has been seriously lacking. Five years ago only four states required reporting. Now hospitals in 27 states are publicly disclosing infection rates or will have to under new laws.

You can find more information about this report at