Hygiene Key to Reducing Infections

New technology and simple measures like frequent hand washing could cut back on infections contracted in hospitals, a researcher says.

New technology and simple measures like frequent hand washing could cut back on infections contracted in hospitals, which kill as many as 88,000 people each year, a researcher says.

New devices such as catheters coated with antibiotics have proved effective against infection at health facilities, said Dr. Richard P. Wenzel, chairman of internal medicine at the Medical College of Virginia.

Wenzel spoke Sunday at the opening of a five-day U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conference on preventing and reducing health care-associated infections.

Wenzel pointed out that new technology is far more expensive than simple, equally important steps -- like getting doctors and nurses to wash their hands after each patient contact.

"Hand washing is cheap, but the impact from it is great," said Wenzel.

Bloodstream infections contracted at health care facilities could be the nation's eighth leading cause of death, claiming more than 25,000 lives each year, said Wenzel.

Last week, the CDC reported that the rate of such infections fell by about 44 percent in the 1990s in medical intensive care units at 300 facilities that report to the government.

The infections typically are caused by catheters, intravenous lines and breathing tubes common to most hospital stays. Such devices allow bacteria to easily enter the body.

Wenzel said simply placing an alcohol dispenser at each patient bed cut blood infection rates by 40 percent in one hospital because workers disinfected their hands more often.

Another effective method is for doctors to model good habits in front of colleagues and medical students.

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