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Hospital-Acquired Infections Decline, But Threat Remains

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 27, 2014

Despite progress in reducing rates of intestinal, chest, and urinary tract infections transmitted to hospitalized patients, nearly three quarters of a million patients each year end up with healthcare-associated infections, says the CDC.

Hospitals have greatly improved their ability to avoid transmitting infections to patients during acute care stays, according to two reports issued Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But officials say there's a lot more work to do, especially in protecting patients from C. difficile, bacterialpneumonia, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

The first report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, surveyed a sample of 11,282 patients treated at 183 hospitals in 10 states in 2011. It found that at any point in time, 4% had at least one infection transmitted within the acute care setting; they did not get infected while outside of a hospital.

Researchers extrapolating to the general hospital population in the U.S., estimated that 648,000 inpatients fought 721,800 infections in 2011. The rate has fallen considerably since 2007, when the figure was estimated to be 1.7 million. And the CDC's research in the 1970s suggested an even higher rate—2.1 million infections.

The reports show that "as a nation, we're moving in the right direction, but there's a great deal of work still to be done," Michael Bell, MD, deputy director of the CDC's division of healthcare quality promotion, said during a news conference. He cautioned, however, that "Despite the progress we've seen, three quarters of a million patients every year end up with healthcare-associated infections."

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