Your Hospital Stay Could Kill You

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 30, 2006, 8:53 AM

March 30, 2006 — -- When he entered the hospital in February 2004, Mark Bennett was a vibrant 88-year-old with little more than a bad cough. Within a few days, his leg had swelled and become discolored. Within four months, he was dead.

It turns out that hospital personnel had passed on at least six different bacterial infections, inducing drug-resistant strains, to Bennett, according to his son, Michael Bennett.

"This was passed to him through negligence, and he died because of it," Bennett said. "He was gentle, yet strong, just a great human being."

Each year, more than 2 million people in the United States acquire an infection during a hospital stay, and an estimated 90,000 people die from them -- more than from AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.

"If 110 people were dying daily from the bird flu, I think we'd be calling this an epidemic," said Marc Volavaka of the Pennsylvania Health Cost Containment Council.

The danger is growing worse because many hospital-acquired infections can no longer be treated with traditional antibiotics. Experts, however, say these infections are almost always preventable.

"Infections are spread on the hands and gloves of health-care workers, on their labs and uniforms, on stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs and bedrails," said Betsy McCaughey of the Committee to Reduce Infections.

Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, authors of "YOU: The Smart Patient," said that patients can protect themselves by heeding the following advice:

Clean Hands
Aggressively insist on clean hands. The rule is that everyone -- doctors, nurses, orderlies -- must wash their hands between each patient. If you don't see them do it, ask them to. Also, make sure your visitors wash their hands and have hand sanitizer available for them to use.

Hospital Accreditation
Not all hospitals are accredited, and often the hospitals that are the only game in town, don't bother with it. Hospitals that are accredited must pass an exam on cleanliness and infection control as well as on patient rights and treatment. Hospitals are cleaner and better-organized after these exams. You can find out whether the hospital is accredited by going to the joint commission Web site.