Hospital Infections: more than just dirty hands

On October 13 edition of White Coat, Black Art, microbiologist and superbug expert Dr. Allison McGeer took me on a tour of Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital to show me where germs that can harm patients lurk. Hospital-acquried infections are the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, a statistic that tracks with other western countries. If you didn't catch the show, click on the Podcast menu and right click on the show dated October 13, 2008. In my conversation with Dr. McGeer, she emphasized the role poor handwashig by health care workers plays in the spreading of these dangeous germs.

Turns out hands aren't the only unclean things being used in hospital.

Last week, health officials reported that nurses at the High Prairie Complex in High Prairie, Alberta, had been routinely injecting drugs into patients' intravenous lines with the same syringe. Alberta Health Services has said it will contact patients by phone and by registered mail to advise that they be tested for Hepatitis B and C and for HIV.

This week, it was reported that a hospital in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan has been reusing syringes to inject medication into intravenous lines. It's unknown how long the practice has been going on and how many patients may have been affected. The province's chief medical officer has said testing of patients on whom syringes were reused will be done if the risk to patients warrants it.

Health officials in both provinces have said the risk to patients is probably low, given the fact that the syringes were used to inject drugs into intravenous lines, and were not used to obtain blood samples from patients.

Still, this is distressing news. If health care workers can't be trusted with something as simple as washing their hands, how can they be trusted to take proper infection control precautions with more compex tasks like preparing intravenous solutions?

What do you think?

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