HHS ramps up message on preventing hospital infections

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 16, 2009

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services in January unveiled a plan to combat the health care-associated infections estimated to kill nearly 100,000 Americans a year and incur about $20 billion in excess costs.

The plan targets surgical-site infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and central-line-associated bloodstream infections. Together, these account for more than 80% of hospital-acquired infections.

The agency received heavy criticism in a 2008 General Accountability Office report for not doing enough to help hospitals and doctors prioritize and implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on averting infections.

The HHS identified gaps in the evidence on how to prevent hospital infections and developed a marketing campaign to spread awareness among physicians, hospitals and the public. In its plan, HHS highlighted key CDC safety tips. The agency said physicians and health professionals should:

  • Use catheters appropriately -- inserted antiseptically by trained personnel, removed as soon as possible, and not used to manage incontinence in nursing homes.
  • Wear a cap, mask, sterile gown and sterile gloves, and use a sterile drape when inserting central venous catheters and do so only after applying an antiseptic to the insertion site.
  • Use sterile gauze to cover the vascular catheter site and change the dressing whenever it becomes soiled or damp.
  • Remove hair from the surgical site only if absolutely necessary, and if so, use electric clippers.

The complete plan is available at the HHS Web site (link).

Note: This item originally appeared at

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