while cdc report says hais are down questions remain

Every once in awhile, certain terms that are found almost exclusively in the domain of the medical world manage to enter the general lexicon. For instance, thanks to the many reports documenting the spread of hospital-acquired infections over the last decade, ordinary people are now familiar with such seemingly complex terms as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

While the majority of reports discussing these HAIs paint a decidedly negative picture, a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that real change may finally be underway in U.S. hospitals.

The report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that in 2011, the most recent year for which complete data is available, there were close to 722,000 HAIs. Breaking these numbers down, this translates into one out of every 25 patients’ contracting such an infection.

Curiously, the CDC officials indicated that their figures differ slightly from previous estimates, which relied on a less precise measurement. For instance, the past estimates projected close to 1.7 million infections in 2011 and an infection rate of one out of every 20 patients.

The CDC researchers claim that their new system of measurement, which was put in place a few years ago, paves the way for a more precise measurement of HAIs. Here, CDC officials are drawing from a larger pool of sample infections by randomly selecting over 10,000 patients at 183 hospitals.

Despite the differences in the set of figures, however, CDC officials point out that they both reveal an altogether encouraging “trend toward improvement,” as the number of HAIs is on the decline.

However, officials point out that while the decline in HAIs can likely be attributed to hospitals taking more proactive sanitation and sterilization measures, it may also have to do with the fact that over 60 percent of surgical procedures are now performed in outpatient facilities instead of hospitals and that more patient care is now being shifted to nursing homes.

In light of this reality, CDC officials indicated that their data collection practices must be enlarged to include both outpatient facilities and nursing homes. It should be interesting to see what these expanded efforts reveal — in particular, whether the HAI crisis has truly abated or if it’s still a very real threat to patients, only in a different venue.

Source: The New York Times, “Infections at Hospitals Are Falling, C.D.C. Says,” Sabrina Tavernise, March 26, 2014

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