Are Hospitals Spreading Germs to Patients?

ByABC News via GMA logo
July 23, 2002, 9:25 PM

July 24 -- You go to the hospital to get better, but a Chicago Tribune investigation found that more than 100,000 deaths in the year 2000 were linked to infections that patients received in our nation's hospitals.

Furthermore, the report indicated that most of the deaths were preventable. Many health officials have disputed the numbers, but the story is focusing new attention on a growing problem.

Deaths linked to hospital infections represent the fourth leading cause of mortality among Americans, behind heart disease, cancer and strokes. These infections kill more people each year than car accidents, fires and drowning combined.

Unwashed Hands

Tribune reporter Michael J. Berens spent a year and a half investigating the story, which is filled with stunning information. One finding: tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if doctors or nurses simply washed their hands.

"Study after study tells us that only 50 percent make time to wash their hands," Berens told Good Morning America. "And there must be time for it even in a crisis, a patient should be able to expect their doctor to do at least that."

Government data show that about 6 percent, or more than 2 million people admitted to hospitals each year, will pick up some type of infection. Such infections might not be harmful to the average person, but for sick patients who are often too weak to fight them off, they can be deadly.

The Tribune report found that nearly three-quarters of the deadly infections, or about 75,000, were preventable because they were caused by unsanitary facilities, germ-infected instruments, unwashed hands, or other lapses.

Sanitary Violations Common

His investigation revealed that 75 percent of all hospitals have been cited for sanitary violations, Berens said.

"Many of them don't clean rooms between patient admissions," Berens said. "And we're not talking about changing the sheets we're talking about disinfecting the room. The germs from the last patient will still be evident in the room unless it is properly disinfected."