View 760 Thursday, January 31, 2013
Years ago when I was in graduate school the University of Washington put on a play called “All for Mary” (I find that it also was a 1955 comedy movie but I never saw it) and my friend Rod Whitaker was one of the lead actors. Rod later became a best selling author under the pen name Trevanian, but in those days he was a graduate student in Glenn Hughes’s UW drama department. I loved the play. One of the repeat comedy lines in the play is said by all of the characters at least once: “Hospital very bad. Many go in. Few come out.”
I’ve been known to repeat that line more than once.
When Hospitals Become Killers
A drug-resistant germ has struck even the National Institutes of Health Medical Center.
In 2011, the lethal germ known as CRK—short for carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella—raced through the National Institutes of Health Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Antibiotics couldn’t stop it. Infection-control precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not contain it. Six patients died because of it, including a 16-year-old boy.
Last week, public-health researchers released alarming data in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology showing that the same germ that swept through the NIH is invading hospitals across the country. Researchers writing this month in another medical journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, warn that CRK poses "a major threat to public health."
The CDC estimates that there about 99,000 annual deaths from hospital acquired diseases, and the number is growing. By contrast, deaths from traffic accidents peaked at about 50,000 a year a few decades ago, and have been dropping ever since. We’re down to under 35,000 a year now. Of course much of that decrease is due to modern medicine and modern emergency hospitals.
It’s just one more thing to worry about.
For a short period of time when I was in high school I was employed as a junior blood technician at a downtown Memphis clinic. Standards in those days were much lower than they are now, of course, but one thing we were taught was meticulous if somewhat drastic sanitation. One of the practices we used was periodic sterilization of darned near everything with carbolic acid, which, I admit, was pretty drastic. It used to be that every biology lab had a bottle of carbolic acid for sterilization, and you could ever get soap with carbolic acid in it – I know, because we were required to use it to wash our hands before and after taking a blood sample. I don’t suppose they do that now. I do wonder how a bug could develop a resistance to phenol, and I doubt any have done so. Maybe we need to go back to something like that? I mean, how much do we spend on trying to prevent traffic deaths, which seem to account for about half the number that you get from hospital infections, and we’re only discussing deaths now, not infections from which people recover.
The Wall Street Journal article asserts that
We have the technology to contain these drug-resistant germs. What is needed is the will to do it. Otherwise patients with cancer, organ transplants and other immune-compromised conditions may find themselves worrying: Is it safe to go to the hospital?
Just one more thing to worry about.
It’s lunch time. I’ll be back. Bill Gates had an interesting essay on measurement and progress last week, and I have some thoughts on that.