If it hasn’t happened to you, it probably has happened to someone you know. A patient goes into the hospital for an emergent or elective procedure and contracts an infection that ends up being far worse than the medical problem which sent them to the hospital in the first place. These infections are called “nosocomial” or “hospital-acquired” infections and they can lead to extended periods of hospitalizations and even death.
Virginia has passed a new law which goes into effect in July of 2008 which requires certain hospitals to report hospital-acquired infections in patients with central-line infusion devices (primarily catheters). The reports will go to the Center for Disease Control and will ultimately be available to the public by the Virginia Department of Health upon request.
Dr. Richard Wenzel, president of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, urges hospital administrators to implement a “zero-tolerance” policy for skirting infection control procedures such as hand-washing, sterilizing equipment, and using gloves and masks with infected patients. Carilion Health System in western Virginia, to its credit, has implemented a new policy in which all high-risk patients (intensive care patients or patients admitted from other hospitals or nursing homes) will submit to a simple skin swab test which detects antigens for one of the most difficult to treat infections, MRSA. If the patient tests positive, isolation procedures and special precautions are followed.
As a hospital patient you cannot control whether other patients bring infections into the hospital. However, you can demand that the nurses and doctors who care for you wash their hands and use appropriate safety equipment such as gloves and masks.