Photograph by Kristina Krug

Hospital-acquired infections rarely make national headlines, but today, “Deadly infections” hits magazine racks across America in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, published by Consumers Union.

For its article, “Deadly infections,” Consumer Reports collected and compared central-line bloodstream infection data for ICUs from state reports that require public reporting and Leapfrog Group’s voluntary reports from hospitals throughout the country. In Consumer Reports product rating fashion, Consumer Reports Health paid subscribers can compare more than 3,600 hospitals on a range of characteristics, including bloodstream infection data where available.

Central line-associated bloodstream infections account for “15 percent of all hospital infections but are responsible for at least 30 percent of the 99,000 annual hospital-infection-related deaths, according to the best estimates available,” writes CR. Central lines are long, flexible catheters that thread through a large vein that leads to the heart and deliver ICU patients essential nutrition, fluids or blood transfusions.

Behind these disturbing statistics are real people. People like Carol Bradley of Nashville, Tennessee (photograph above) whose story was featured in this Consumer Reports article. Carol suffered many types of infections, including a bloodstream infection, after surgery in August 2008. Carol contacted Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project last year, when she was still taking oral antibiotics to recover from her hospital ordeal, which “caused pain, draining wound, and thousands of dollars for tests, 2 months of home IV antibiotics, more testing…” she wrote.

Central line-associated bloodstream infections are almost completely preventable by simple steps like a five-step checklist, writes Consumer Reports. Peter Pronovost’s checklist (featured in this CR article) may look simple but hospitals can and should follow such common-sense practices; steps like washing hands before and after examining patients. Last year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called on hospitals to use this checklist to reduce their rates of central-line infections in ICUs by 75 percent over the next three years. In many states without infection public disclosure laws, “only 20 percent of the hospitals are signing up” for Sebelius’ initiative, notes Pronovost, whereas more hospitals have signed up in states where they face public disclosure of their infection rates.

That’s where our Safe Patient Project campaign can challenge this unacceptable resistance to change, with your help. We have a history of doing so. Six years ago, one state required disclosure. Now 27 states do and of these, 17 states have issued public infection rate reports. We put a handy list of disclosure reports to date together here.

We believe that patients have no reliable data to suggest that our hospitals, overall, have made any real progress over the past 10 years to keep us safer from infections. We made this exact point in our 2009 report, To Err Is Human, To Delay Is Deadly.

But we have made some progress, in large part thanks to patient safety advocates across the country and the thousands of people who have shared their personal hospital infection stories with us since we first started our campaign to make hospital infection rates public. These stories helped us advocate for disclosure laws.

Hospital-acquired infection rates should be mandatory, validated and public nationwide. If you haven’t done so already, please contact your lawmakers in Congress and tell them that you expect safe hospital care for you and your loved ones. No one should have to worry about leaving the hospital sicker than they were when they entered. It’s time for hospitals to show us infection data, which is the very first step for making sure that people like you and me can remain confident in our hospital system.