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Hospital Infections in US Continue to Rise

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Hospitals not only treat infections -- they can also cause them.

In the United States alone, the number of infections in hospitals is estimated at close to two million each year. About one hundred thousand patients die.

A new government report notes that very little progress has been made in reducing what are called health care-associated infections. The most common are infections of the urinary tract, surgical site and bloodstream.

Many infections have been increasing even as hospitals have made efforts to improve. The report shows, for example, an eight percent increase in cases of sepsis, or bloodstream infection, following operations.

About forty percent of all health care-associated infections are linked to the use of catheters. A tube is placed inside the body to collect urine, so the patient does not have to get out of bed.

But the latest report says urinary tract infections after surgery increased more than three and a half percent. It says catheters should be used only if necessary.

Another way to prevent infections is to give patients antibiotics before surgery. Doctors are advised to give them within the hour before the operation. Patients who get antibiotics earlier than one hour are more likely to get an infected surgical wound.

Also, doctors are advised to discontinue the antibiotics within twenty-four hours after the surgery. The report says longer than that is usually not necessary. It can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance and serious kinds of diarrhea.

Not all the news was bad. The report said the rate of pneumonia in adults after surgery decreased more than eleven and a half percent.

A separate report looked at the differences last year in health care for different groups in society.

Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of health and human services. Her department produced the two thousand nine National Healthcare Disparities Report and National Healthcare Quality Report. She noted that racial and ethnic minorities were less likely to have insurance and less likely to get the treatments they needed. She called the numbers "troubling."

But she also said the health care reforms passed by Congress will improve the quality of care for all Americans. She said the new law will reward quality over quantity of care, creating a system that prevents diseases before more costly treatment is required.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Transcripts, MP3s and more are at I'm Steve Ember.