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99,000 Die Yearly From Preventable Hospital Infections

CDC Finally Gets Data as State Laws Force Hospitals to Count Infections
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 27, 2010 -- As some 99,000 Americans die yearly from hospital-acquired infections, state laws are finally forcing hospitals to report the infections.

Early data released by CDC today suggest this is cutting infection rates. But the data paint a bigger picture. Despite the huge size of the problem, most hospitals in most states still haven't come to grips with it.

That's going to change, says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico recently published state action plans to reduce hospital-acquired infections," Sebelius says in a news release.

It's a good start. But it's been a struggle just to get to the starting line, says Lisa McGiffert, who as campaign manager for Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project lobbies states to pass laws requiring public reporting of in-hospital infections.

"When we started, we thought hospitals knew their infection rates and were keeping them secret," McGiffert tells WebMD. "But they were not tracking them at all. If you are not aware of something you can't stop it. Where hospitals have been forced to face this and count it, it has created a sea change."

Today's CDC report includes data from 17 states on just one kind of hospital-acquired infection: central-line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs). Because central-line catheters are usually placed in severely ill patients, this single category accounts for about a third of deaths from hospital-acquired infections.

But the data yield little information:

  • Because of differences in data collection and data verification, it's impossible to compare states.
  • There's no information on specific hospitals.
  • It's the first time the data have been reported, making it hard to see whether a state's hospitals are doing better or worse.

It's only a first step, says Arjun Srinivasan, MD, associate director of the health care-associated infection prevention program at the CDC.

"The real importance of this report will be to compare it with new data that will be gathered every six months," Srinivasan said at a news conference. "Then we'll know how much progress we are making toward our ultimate goal of eliminating hospital infections."

McGiffert has a more balanced view of the importance of the CDC report.

"The main thing this means is that the CDC has finally embraced public reporting as a component of prevention strategies," she says.

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