Report: Thousands die needlessly from hospital infections

July 20, 2002 Posted: 4:27 PM EDT (2027 GMT)

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- About 103,000 deaths were linked to hospital infections in 2000 -- a figure 14 percent higher than government estimates -- and nearly 75 percent of the deaths were preventable, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year calculated 90,000 deaths in 2000 were linked to hospital infections, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, cancer and strokes.

Many of the deaths were caused by unsanitary facilities, germ-laden instruments and unwashed hands, the newspaper said in early Sunday editions distributed Saturday.

According to the report, infection rates are soaring nationally, exacerbated by hospital cutbacks and carelessness by doctors and nurses, and serious violations of infection-control standards have been found in the majority of hospitals.

Since 1995, more than 75 percent of all hospitals have been cited for serious cleanliness and sanitation violations.

Hospitals are not required to disclose infection rates, and most do not. Doctors are not required to tell patients about risk or exposure to hospital germs.

To document the rising rate of infection-related deaths, the newspaper analyzed records from 75 federal and state agencies, as well as internal hospital files, patient databases and court cases around the country.

CDC officials said they believe most hospital infections are preventable, but the agency has not arrived at a precise number.

The American Hospital Association said the last decade of unprecedented cost-cutting and financial instability has impacted all areas of hospital care.

"It's had an effect on infection control and it's had an effect on our ability to recruit and retain workers. It's had an effect on our ability to invest in new and updated equipment as much as we would like to," said Rick Wade, spokesman for the AHA.

"It's also a question in front of society. How much do you want to invest in high-quality, safe medical care?"

Among recent incidents in which hospital-linked infections were cited, the newspaper noted a 1998 case in which eight children died at a Chicago pediatric medical center; a 1997 Detroit case in which four babies died in 1997; and an infection at a West Palm Beach, Florida, hospital where 13 people cardiac patients died in the late 1990s.

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