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Hospital Infections Up 36 Percent

SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 1998

The federal government says hospital infections have risen 36 percent over the past two decades and health workers could combat the problem by writing fewer prescriptions and washing their hands regularly.

In 1995, 9.8 infections occurred per 1,000 days in a sampling of U.S. hospitals, up from 7.2 per 1,000 in 1975, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented Wednesday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Hospital infections, which kill about 90,000 people a year, are fueled by bacteria that are growing more and more resistant to the drugs commonly used against them. The top six bacteria found in hospitals are all resistant to at least one drug.

Calling the problem a growing threat to public health, infection experts said health workers need to be more conscientious about washing their hands and have to control antibiotic prescriptions.

“The Holy Grail for infection control is a way to improve handwashing,” said Dr. Robert Weinstein, director of infectious diseases for Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

While it may seem like a simple solution, handwashing may be difficult to accomplish, he said. For example, a doctor treating several patients at once may not have enough time to wash up in between.

“I think we will take a lead from the fast food industry,” which is experimenting with microchips that light up on the badges of employees who don’t wash regularly, he said.

Dr. William Jarvis, the CDC’s director of hospital infection control, said doctors must scale back prescriptions since overuse of antibiotics leads to drug-resistant bacteria.

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