Parents whose children are ill enough to spend time in an intensive care unit may have something else to worry about on top of that serious medical condition, according to new research published in Consumer Reports. The risk of a serious bloodstream infection contracted in hospitals, the report says, is 20 percent higher in pediatric intensive care units (ICUs) than in adult intensive care units.
The Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center also rated pediatric ICUs across the country based on how well they prevented a certain type of dangerous infection that affects central lines, long tubes inserted into veins that go directly to blood vessels feeding the heart used to administer medication and fluids.
Based on data from 92 ICUs gathered in 2010, researchers discovered that only five earned the highest possible rating of 5, meaning they reported no central line infections. Twenty-four ICUs received a 2, the second-lowest rating. Their infection rates were higher than the national average of 1.5 blood infections per 1,000 days children had central lines. Two hospitals scored a 1, the lowest rating, with rates more than twice the national average.
The report cites data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimated 27,000 to 65,000 central line bloodstream infections in U.S. hospitals in 2009. Between 12,000 and 28,000 of them occurred in ICUs, and about 25 percent of them were fatal.
"These are serious infections that can lead to the death of a patient and are preventable, but hospitals are not doing enough to prevent them," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.
The infections, he explained, often occur because health care personnel don't take enough precautions to ensure the lines are inserted under absolutely sterile conditions or make sure they are kept very clean so bacteria can't enter the bloodstream.
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Santa also said that despite the fact that there are more than 400 hospitals with pediatric ICUs nationwide, only 92 made it into the analysis, because more than half of them did not make their infection data public and the others did not utilize enough central lines to make a fair comparison. Hospitals are not required in every state to report their data on infections.
"We are very concerned that hospitals are not sharing their data and are concealing it, and we also know this is a very important issue for parents," he said.