Hospitals can be dangerous places. The sickest people with the nastiest infections get treated there. But a lot of people catch bad bugs while they are in the hospital. An estimated 100,000 people die every year because of infections they catch in a health-care setting.
We received this message from a person who came down with Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a hard-to-treat intestinal infection: “I had a double knee replacement in February. I was discharged to rehab two days later, but I had to return to the hospital after only two days due to a C. diff infection.
“My knees turned out fine, but I was told the antibiotic I received during surgery killed all the good bacteria and left the bad. During the next four months, I was hospitalized four times and put in rehab four times, although I was prescribed Flagyl and then Vancocin.
“I’m still on Vancocin and will be taking it for two more months. I’m worried about what will happen to me if this antibiotic fails.
“I never imagined that repairing my arthritic knees would result in five months in the hospital. I can finally get around without a walker or cane, but each episode of C. diff put me behind schedule.
“I’m really mad about all the unsanitary situations I saw in both the hospital and rehab facility. The rooms and bathrooms were not kept clean and equipment was not wiped off when someone used it before me.
“Going to the hospital is like walking into a bacteria-filled petri dish. If you come out infection-free, count your blessings.
“No one would take responsibility for my C. diff. Since I had so many stays in rehab, I’m responsible for $5,000 of the charges. My insurance only pays for 10 days of rehab within a 60-day period. So I’m a victim twice over.”
For years, hospital administrators considered such infections inevitable, just a cost of doing business. There is even a fancy name for it: nosocomial infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.7 million occur every year.
There is a growing recognition, however, that infection rates could be cut dramatically if health-care workers followed certain precautions. Hand washing is the first and most basic, but it is not the only precaution that needs to be taken. In his book, “Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals,” Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., describes how a five-point checklist can reduce infections associated with tubes that are inserted into the body.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics also can make patients more vulnerable by killing off good bacteria. Clindamycin is an antibiotic that has been linked to C. diff.
Here is one reader’s experience: “I was prescribed clindamycin for a tooth extraction. I received NO warning about this drug.
“Three weeks later, I was in the ICU in septic shock with diarrhea, fever and blood pressure in the 50s. No blood was getting to my organs, and they were beginning to shut down. Who knew having a tooth removed could kill you?
“Beware of clindamycin. It puts you at risk for C. diff, a terrible and highly contagious infection.”
The lesson to be learned from this story is that we should always ask about the risks of any proposed treatment to avoid a cure that is worse than the disease.
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