Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Alarm about hospital germs
(CNN) -- Germs in hospitals kill more Americans every year than car accidents, fires and drownings combined, the Chicago Tribune reports.
In a special investigation, the newspaper found that in 2000 nearly three-quarters of these deadly infections -- or about 75,000 -- were preventable. Strict adherence to clean-hand policies alone could save 20,000 lives, according to the federal government.
In a separate case on the health front, authorities in Florida are investigating how two people became infected with HIV after receiving tainted blood transfusions.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent, discussed these reports Monday with CNN anchor Bill Hemmer.
GUPTA: What they talked about specifically was 100,000 deaths being caused by infections in the hospital. That is infection that you actually truly pick up after you got to the hospital, and they cited all sorts of different things.
Certainly, we know that hospitals are not a good place for bacteria. You get some of the nastiest bacteria actually breeding in hospitals because of the sick patients, and those same sick patients are more susceptible to these bacteria.
But what really had people up in arms is that fully 75,000, or three-quarters of these 100,000, are deemed to be preventable infections.
And here are some of the reasons that they actually said. Actually, unsanitary -- overall unsanitary conditions, germ-laden instruments. They actually went back and looked at some of the instruments that they use in the operating rooms, for example, and found that they actually had some bacteria on them.
Unsterile clothing. Actual examples of doctors wearing clothes that they had gone to bed in the night before, coming in and wearing those same clothes in the operating room. .... Unwashed hands [are] a big problem as well.
They also cited some rather remarkable examples of fly- and dust-infested operating rooms. They had one example of a guy actually biting tape off with his teeth and then putting that tape on a open wound. Certainly, your mouth being the most bacteria infected places of the body. Those are all sort of pretty egregious examples, and no doubt contributing to this pretty alarming number.
HEMMER: I see some solutions in here, some rather simple solutions. Keep it clean and be diligent. What can hospitals do to control it?
GUPTA: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the solutions range from very complicated to very simple. Certainly, for example, in the operating rooms, there are air filtration systems which actually are constantly sucking air out of the operating room. Makes a lot of sense. You don't want to be blowing potentially contaminated air into the operating room, so it is always sucking out.
One problem with that, of course, Bill, is money. Sometimes those systems can cost a lot of money. Simpler examples [include] ... a hand-washing device, waterless hand washing. They actually put these outside of rooms, all patient rooms; [it] takes just a few seconds to wash your hands in between each room. That could save 20,000 lives a year.
HEMMER: That is unbelievable. So simple, as you point out.
Let's turn our attention to another topic, one out of Florida. Blood transfusions that have resulted now in HIV-positive infection for at least two people, I believe, in this report. What's more on this, Sanjay?
GUPTA: Yes, so there was a gentleman out of Florida who was a blood donor as so many Americans are. He actually started donating after September 11.
All the time, not a risky person, supposedly did not engage in any risky behaviors for HIV, was not HIV positive as his blood was checked. But after a few donations, his blood was subsequently found to be actually HIV positive. They went back and traced where his blood actually went and found that two of the people that had received his blood were in fact HIV positive as well.
No question, a very, very alarming thing. But a very, very rare thing as well. Still, even with this remarkable example, the chance of getting HIV from a blood transfusion is still one out of 2 to 3 million people, and that's out of the 12 million to 26 million or so blood transfusions that take place every year.
HEMMER: That answer leads me to a very obvious question. There have been checks and balances in a program all across the country in place for years, and it seemed to be working rather well. Can you say, can others say how safe the blood supply is right now?
GUPTA: Right. Well, I think they can say it's very safe, Bill, and it is becoming safer as more and more tests are developed. Certainly, one thing that this particular test ... they actually test for the presence of the virus as opposed to testing for the presence of the body's response to the virus, the antibodies. That is a new test and much more specific.
The problem here, Bill, is it takes about seven to 10 days for enough virus to be present in the blood to be detected after you're infected. So that was part of the problem here. But it is very safe. One out of 2 to 3 million blood transfusions will actually result in an infection.
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