Hospitals are hotbeds for infections because that’s where sick people go. And because those people are already weak, they’re more vulnerable to opportunistic organisms that proliferate in that environment. As we have reported, awareness is increasing of how hospital infections spread and how to minimize that traffic, even if the cause-effect-response process is difficult to track.
Control of hospital-acquired infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just got a whole lot harder.
As widely reported last week, including in the New York Times, the CDC said there was a small window of opportunity to stop the spread of a virulent hospital bacteria.
The bacteria resist a class of antibiotics called carbapenems, a group of drugs usually given as a last resort. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are so lethal that the death rate of people who have contracted an infection is 1 out of 2. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC (an organization not given to alarmism), called the bugs “nightmare bacteria” because they could pass their drug resistance on to other bacteria.
Most people who fall victim to CRE already are sick with problems requiring complicated treatment and long stays in hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities. So far, the infections seem to be limited to these facilities, but without a worthy antibiotic opponent, they could spread to the community at large.
The findings of the CDC report are a call to action, the agency says, “for the entire health-care community to work urgently … to protect patients. During just the first half of 2012, almost 200 hospitals and long-term acute care facilities treated at least one patient infected with these bacteria.”
A blog on the CDC site written by Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the agency’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion noted that:
- In the first half of 2012, about 4 in 100 short-stay hospital visits in the U.S. involved at least one patient with a serious CRE infection; about 18 in 100 visits in long-term acute care hospitals had one. Nearly 200 facilities were involved.
- One type of CRE has been reported in medical facilities in 42 states.
- The most common type of CRE increased sevenfold in the last 10 years.
Srinivasan warned “New drugs won’t be here for many years, so we must do everything we can to preserve current antibiotics for as long as possible. ”
He’s optimistic, saying that the CDC has mapped out specific guidelines that can halt CRE infections before they become widespread. He said that some medical facilities already have reduced or stopped CRE rates by following the guidelines.
What’s required to halt the invaders, according to The Times, is “the usual call for ruthless scrubbing of all surfaces and relentless hand-washing,” isolating infected patients and assigning dedicated-care teams and equipment to them. To see the complete guidelines, link here.
If you or a loved one is a hospital patient, you must be aware of the risk of infection. Make sure the caregivers remove catheters and intravenous lines as soon as possible-they’re a direct path for bacteria. Make sure doctors are prescribing antibiotics only when they are truly needed-unnecessary use of these drugs simply makes bacteria more resistant to them, and harder to eradicate next time. Also, wash your hands before touching the patient, and make sure every caregiver does too.
To learn more about hospital-acquired infections in general, see our backgrounder.