The Washington Times - October 8, 2008, 06:16PM

American hospitals could save as many as 90,000 lives and as much as $5.5 billion annually by cleaning up health-care associated illnesses.

According to a study released Tuesday by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, more than 90,000 Americans a year die from contracting a virus while hospitalized, becoming infected during a surgical procedure or picking up a deadly germ while being treated.

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“Every hospital in America is aware of infections,” said Dr. Robert Wise, one of the study’s authors. Speaking at the National Press Club, he said: “Every hospital has plans and is actively working to decrease health-care associated infections. All hospitals are partially affected.”

The most common health-care associated illness is the catheter-associated urinary tract infection, which Dr. Wise said could be from long-term uses of catheters.

Most of these infections, he said, ccould be prevented if hospital workers simply removed catheters at a more appropriate time — and then thoroughly washed their hands before seeing new patients.

Another example of one of these illnesses is Methicillin-resistant staphococcus aureus (MRSA), which comes from a staph bacteria. MRSA is harder to treat because the staph bacteria is already resistant to the antibiotic, methicillin.

Dr. Wise and six others spent two years writing a compendium that would include new research on procedures to reduce health-care associated illnesses in response to the rise in the number of infections traced to health-care.

“The best strategies have never been in one place in an easy-to-use form as they are in right now,” Dr. Wise said.

By 2009 , he said, all hospitals will be expected to review their practices and “consider which of these strategies they need to add.” He said they will also talk with stakeholders, scholars, patients and other medical organizations to see which procedures need to be added. Dr. Wise said he will expect to have an official list to be added to the comission’s accredidation standards by 2010.

“These strategies are based out of the best available science on how to combat these infections,” Rich Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association, said. “And are presented in a manner that is accesible to, understandable by but most importantly actionable by each and every health-care worker.”

Mr. Umdenstock said although hospitals will have a harder job to do in the wake of the compendium as he and others said they would like to “conquer” health care associated illnesses. He said the document’s release “renews the call to action and provides clear direction that will strengthen the work already underway every day in every hospital in the country.”

— Christopher Shaver, Washington Times intern