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Hospital infection rate may be decreasing

Health officials released a statement this week saying that the number of hospital infections acquired by American patients has decreased significantly over the past ten years. Hospitals and nursing homes have been under pressure from health officials to work on better hygiene practices and other measures that prevent infections.

The most recent data available is from 2011, when federal regulators say that there were around 722,000 hospital infections documented in the United States. This number is much lower than estimates for previous years. This shakes out to one in every 25 patients acquiring a hospital infection. Previous estimates have placed the ratio at one in 20 patients, using data from 2002.

There are some questions about the significance of this apparently major decline, since the way that we gather this information has changed a lot over the past ten years. The data from 2011 is said to be much more accurate than it has been in the past, thanks to the use of the first national representative counting methodology.

Hospital infections are estimated to be a leading cause of death in the United States, claiming as many as 75,000 lives each year. About one out of every nine people who acquire a hospital infection eventually die as a result of the illness.

The important take-away from the new data is to remember that hospital infections are preventable through the use of proper hygiene practices like hand-washing and sterilization of rooms and equipment between patients. These measures should be automatic but unfortunately they are sometimes overlooked and patients suffer the consequences.

Source: New York Times, “Infections at Hospitals Are Falling, C.D.C. Says,” Sabrina Tavernise, March 26, 2014.

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Alan D. Bell
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