People who enter hospitals and other healthcare facilities are often ill or injured to begin with. They expect to get better. Sometimes, however, a hospital acquired infection (HAI) makes them even worse than they were when they entered. HAIs are also called nosocomial infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two million people acquire infections in hospitals each year. Using a different estimate, HAIs affect as many as one in 10 patients. Such infections result in 90,000 deaths each year. More people die from hospital infections annually than from breast cancer, auto accidents and AIDS combined.
More often, HAIs can be successfully treated. However, an HAI can be a type of medical negligence that causes a patient to suffer additional injury or illness. It adds costly treatments, hospital days, pain and suffering, and recovery time. It can be the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
What Are HAIs?
An infection is a disease caused by micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites that enter the body through an orifice, incision or existing wound.
Although many of these agents exist in any hospital, with a large sick population, the most dangerous “superbugs” are MRSA, VRE and C.diff. They are often drug-resistant and deadly. The first two can cause lung, wound, urinary tract and bloodstream infections. The third often results from over-use of antibiotics and can cause life-threatening diarrhea.
How Do You Catch an HAI?
HAIs can be passed from caregiver to patient, from patient to patient, and from environment to patient. The first line of defense is consistent use of hand-washing, antiseptic wipes, alcohol-based gels and new gloves prior to touching each patient, or when moving from patient to patient. According to some studies, doctors fail to take this simple precaution 52 percent of the time.
Patient’s rooms and bathrooms, including all fabrics and surfaces, must be thoroughly sterilized between occupants and throughout occupancy. Even food trays and utensils can carry dangerous germs.
Other common causes of HAIs are unsanitary surgical suites, tools and implants; improper use of intravenous equipment; improper use of ventilators; improper care of surgical sites; and even shaving hair at a surgical site, which can cause small cuts that allow bacteria to enter the body.
How Does Screening Help?
Since 2004, 27 states have enacted laws that require hospitals to disclose their infection rates to the public. Nine of those states have additional laws requiring that hospitals screen incoming patients for existing infection with the drug-resistant bacteria MRSA. These patients are then isolated and treated.
A study published in May 2013 hints at an even more effective way to treat MRSA and other HAIs, using a protocol called universal decolonization. When ICU patients at more than 40 hospitals got their noses swabbed twice a day with bacteria-fighting ointment, plus were bathed daily with antiseptic wipes, they were 40 percent less likely to get a bloodstream infection of any type.
These results are likely to result in new laws and protocols.
Call a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
The law surrounding hospital acquired infections is rapidly evolving and extremely complex. Plus, the facts of each case and the laws in each state are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the subject. It is not legal advice. For more detailed, specific information about your situation, please contact a medical malpractice lawyer.