Hospital-Acquired Superbugs on the Rise

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A couple of months ago I wrote about hospital-acquired infections – who is susceptible, what causes them, how they are spread, the most common types and steps to prevent the infections. Today, HAI (Hospital-Acquired Infection or Healthcare-Associated Infection) continues to soar in hospitals all over the world! This is a global crisis affecting patients, their visitors and healthcare personnel. I had an email from Barbara Dunn the other day, and she has been instrumental in setting up a wonderful website, through Kimberly-Clark Healthcare, entitled “Not on My Watch” at  This site is joining in an effort to educate patients, healthcare professionals and the general public on the dangers of these preventable infections and to protect people from getting sick in the very place they went to get well. The goal is to eliminate these illnesses that often have tragic consequences. 

We all hear about “superbugs” in the news from time to time, but what exactly is a superbug? The two main types of superbugs are MRSA and Clostridium Difficile, or C. Diff as it is also known.  MRSA is a form of bacterial infection which is difficult to treat as it is resistant to most antibiotics.  It’s more common in hospitals because people’s immune systems are often weakened by another illness, which makes it easier for the infection to take hold. Open wounds also provide a way in for the bacteria, which is why hygiene is key to stopping the spread among patients. Clostridium Difficile is also a bacterial infection, but patients are most at risk after they have taken a course of antibiotics as the drugs kill off other types of bacteria in the intestine which keeps the C. Diff bacteria from multiplying. Good hygiene is the main way to ensure the infection doesn’t spread in a hospital environment.

Perhaps the most troubling part of a survey published in February of this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which estimates that 48,000 people died in 2006 after developing deadly infections while in the hospital, was that many of the deaths involved healthy people who had minor procedures. Sepsis and pneumonia were the two most prevalent infections, accounting for one-third of the 1.7 million that American patients pick up every year while in the hospital, but the figure may be even greater according to the study.  And while certainly some hospital-acquired (or healthcare-associated) infections are unavoidable, many of the infections occur because of a lack of proper infection control. This is a serious and growing problem that some hospitals have addressed, but many have not.  

The cost of these infections is having an enormous economic impact on our healthcare.  Infections typically require patients to spend significant extra time in the hospital and cost $8.1 billion each year to treat, according to the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy at Washington-based Resources for the Future. And the cost of prevention is cheap – follow hospital protocols for hand washing and sanitizing medical supplies.  According to the CDC’s Guidelines for Hand-Hygiene in Healthcare Settings, an average of only 40% of healthcare workers adhered to hand hygiene protocols. Healthcare workers often fail to comply with hospital and hand washing protocols due to inconvenient access to hand washing utilities or shortage of time. It is recommended that alcohol based hand rubs with no-touch dispensers are placed in every patient room, outside elevators, in waiting rooms and outside staff workstations. In addition, medical equipment should be cleaned thoroughly. 

Next time you or a family member has to go to the hospital, please take notice of the hospital’s hand-washing protocols and wash your hands. Other simple things you can do to protect yourself include taking an alcohol-based hand gel with you and apply it regularly, ask if the doctor or nurse treating you has washed their hands – it is perfectly within your rights to do so, make sure people visiting you also clean their hands when they arrive and leave, wear slippers around the hospital rather than bare feet and report any uncleanliness you notice during your stay. Be sure to keep current on news features and to learn more about the impact of heathcare-associated infections for both medical professionals and patients, please visit

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