If there is a bird flu pandemic, hospitals could be overwhelmed with patients. And an overcrowded hospital can be a dangerous place -- already, some people become more ill from infections they contract in the hospital. As Amy Katz reports, one activist group in the U.S. has launched a campaign for stronger infection control measures in medical care facilities.
The rate of infections in American hospitals has risen steadily over the last 30 years, according to Betsy McCaughey, head of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths -- or RID.
"Hospital hygiene is so inadequate that one out of every 20 patients contracts an infection in the hospital,” she says. “The danger is worsening, because increasingly it cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics."
Maureen Daly is the Volunteer Coordinator for RID.
Her 63-year-old mother was admitted to a New York City hospital for surgery on a fractured shoulder.
During that procedure she contracted an infection that had fatal consequences.
"She died five months later on May 23, 2004, all from a broken shoulder," said Ms. Daly.
The group is urging American hospitals to follow four guidelines aimed at preventing infections:
the cleaning of hands before every patient is treated
cleaning of hospital equipment and rooms
testing each patient admitted to the hospital to see if they are carrying dangerous bacteria
taking precautions to prevent that bacteria from being transmitted to other patients
These measures have been proven effective in several U.S. hospitals as well as some in Denmark, Holland and Finland.
"If hospitals lack the discipline to prevent ordinary infections from spreading from patient to patient in the hospital, they are totally unprepared to deal with avian flu which spreads more easily because it can be spread not only by touch but also by droplets, by sneezing and coughing," says the head of RID.
Ms. McCaughey says improving day-to-day infection control is they key to preventing the spread of all infections. And that would save millions of dollars -- and many lives.