By Mike Cooper
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The rate at which patients pick up an
infection while being treated in a U.S. hospital has increased
36 percent in the past 20 years, U.S. health researchers said
The number of patients who get an infection while in the
hospital has remained stable, even though fewer people are being
hospitalized and their hospital stays are shorter, Dr. William
Jarvis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
told researchers at an international conference on emerging
``Between 1975 and 1995, the nosocomial (hospital-
acquired) infection rate increased about 36 percent,'' Jarvis
said the figure was based on discharge information from
hospitals across the country.
``We estimate that today 2 million patients develop a
hospital-acquired infection in the United States each year. Of
that number, 90,000 die as a result of those infections,''
Jarvis, acting director of the CDC's hospital infections
program, told Reuters.
There were 9.77 hospital-acquired infections per 1,000
patient-days in 1995, compared with 7.18 in 1975, Jarvis said.
He said the rate had risen in part because hospitals
using more invasive procedures -- using breathing tubes and
intravenous catheters, for example -- to treat patients.
"Those are lifesaving but carry a risk of causing a
nosocomial infection," Jarvis said.
Not only are hospital patients at increased risk for
infection but the infectious diseases are increasingly resistant
to drugs commonly used to treat them.
"In at least 70 percent of the hospital-acquired
that occur, the organism is resistant to at least one
antibiotic. In 35 to 40 percent of infections, the organism is
actually resistant to the best drug you would use to treat that
organism," Jarvis said.
Fred Tenover, also of the CDC's hospital infections
said drug resistance was an evolutionary process.
"It is survival of the fittest. You are the most fit if
you are a bacteria and you are resistant to antibiotics," Tenover
told the International Conference on Emerging Infectious
Diseases, sponsored by the CDC and the American Society for
One of the problems is that antibiotics are
overprescribed, Jarvis said. A University of Iowa study found that use of
vancomycin, a first-line drug used to combat serious
staphylococcal and enterococcal infections, had increased
200-fold but its use was unnecessary in almost two-thirds of
Overall, hospital infections could be reduced if health-
care workers would simply wash their hands more frequently,
researchers said. "Patients or their family members should stop that
physician, stop that nurse, stop the clinician before touching
them and say, 'Have you washed your hands?' " Jarvis
Jarvis said there would have been an even larger
infections if hospitals had not adopted infection-control
programs during the past two decades.
"If they had not been in place, we would probably have
seen a 50 to 75 percent increase in infection rates," he said.