Posted On: April 29, 2014 by Patrick A. Malone

Deadly Infection Outbreak at a Hospital for Kids Shakes the Faith

New Orleans is reeling from a story about yet another failure of one of its sacred institutions, this time Children's Hospital, which experienced a deadly outbreak of a fungal infection that is only now coming to light years later.

The flesh-eating fungus is believed to have spread from contaminated linens, towels or gowns, which were moved out of the hospital from the same loading dock where clean supplies were brought in. It killed five children who were patients between 2008 and 2009. According to the New York Times, the story is only now coming to light because a medical journal reported about the outbreak this month.

New Orleans citizens are mad because the hospital moved slowly to connect the dots among the cases, and moved even slower to notify families about what happened. That didn't occur until after the medical journal broke the news.

Now the hospital says it has new measures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Outbreaks of infection in hospitals are old news, of course, but things are supposed to be getting better. In fact, this blog was all set to run a story today on improved numbers in infections at health care facilities. We put the Times piece on top of that one.

Here's an important angle for patients in other places about transparency and trust. As the Times reports:

In response to several unrelated outbreaks in recent years, the C.D.C. started an initiative to help hospitals and health departments communicate with the public about medical errors and infections acquired in health care facilities. Abbigail Tumpey, who leads the effort, said that while it is important to avoid scaring away patients, hospitals that are open about problems and the steps taken to remedy them have built public trust.

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Here's the story we had planned to run today before the new Times report thudded onto the desk here. It's still good news and worth knowing about.

According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health-care acquired infections (HAIs) are declining.

HAIs are infections patients contract from being treated in any medical setting, including hospitals, long-term care and ambulatory facilities or from providers of home care. We’ve known for a long time that being hospitalized raises your chances of contracting an infection that wasn’t part of your reason for being there in the first place, and these illnesses can be not only expensive to treat, but life-threatening.

The CDC report looked at several kinds of infection, and the one that has shown the steepest drop is one of the most common and dangerous — central-line bloodstream infections. You get one of those generally by having an IV line inserted into a large vein, often in the neck or near the heart, to deliver medicines or fluids or to withdraw blood. From 2008 to 2012, the report says, there were 44% fewer such infections.

Among others showing a notable decline, were some surgical site infections — those for colon surgery were down by 20%, and for abdominal/hysterectomy surgery, down by 11%.

Unfortunately, one common HAI, urinary tract infections caused by catheters, rose by 3% during the study period.

The caveat here is significant: Although there is a rising awareness that people often get infected in a health-care setting, and measures are being taken to address the problem, some states are doing much better than others at reducing infections.

There’s a good graphic showing the state-by-state variation of infection numbers and control on CommonwealthFund.org, a private foundation that promotes a high-performing health-care system and better access to it.

See our recent blogs about measure you can to guard against HAIs here and here.

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