With Rise of Superbugs, Hospitals and Doctors Vow an Aggressive Response

In response to an increase in superbugs, medical centers are taking an aggressive stance by implementing strict hygiene standards and educating patients about antibiotic resistance. Superbugs are bacterial infections resistant to medical treatment, such as antibiotics. A global increase in the number of antibiotic prescriptions coupled with a lack of new antibiotics produced in the last few decades created strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, superbugs (and antibiotic resistance, more generally) present one of the world’s “most pressing public health problems.”

Filled with infectious diseases and compromised immune systems, hospitals are a breeding ground for superbugs and their patients are uniquely susceptible. Thankfully, hospitals are stepping up and setting new standards to prevent the spread of infection. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, several hospitals detail new procedures meant to improve hygiene and stop germs from spreading. In addition to routine hand washing, medical staff at these hospitals also clean stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, IV poles and pumps, bed railings, and computer keyboards. Stethoscopes, in a surprise to hospital staff interviewed by the WSJ, usually carry the same number of germs as a doctor’s hands after just a single physical examination.

Other hospitals are experimenting with ultraviolet radiation, copper, and instituting “handshake-free zones” to kill germs, according to the newspaper. While ultraviolet radiation effectively kills some bacteria, the use of copper to prevent the spread of bacteria is still unproven. A Virginia hospital that outfitted one building with copper – which included copper surfaces on furniture, beds, countertops, and even copper-infused linens – found a significant decrease in germs when compared to the other buildings. Despite this single case, academics say that copper’s germ-fighting abilities have not been scientifically proven. The “hand-shake free” zone, while an effective way to reduce the transmission of germs, never became a habit for hospital staffers at UCLA, which piloted the study in 2015.

For patient advocates, the push to increase hygiene standards is welcome and overdue. Infections acquired in health-care settings are disturbingly common. According to the CDC, one out of every 25 patients receives at least one infection diagnosis related to hospital care. Health-associated infections cause 99,000 deaths and cost an estimated $20 billion in healthcare costs. Given the enormity of the problem, the government agency has long chided hospitals about the “need for improved infection control.” Speaking to the WSJ, the Founder of Reduce Infection Deaths, Betsy McCaughey said, “We have the knowledge to prevent infections. What has been lacking is the will.” Hopefully, hospitals are finally paying attention and prepared to do their part in stopping the spread of superbugs, along with the pain and expense they inflict.

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