Viewpoint: CDC has a duty to warn public about hospital infections

An infant's death from a viral eye infection while in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia points to the need for the CDC to stop keeping the public in the dark about hospital infections, Betsy McCaughey, PhD, senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and patient advocate, writes in the Boston Herald.

"Hospitals would like you to think infections are inevitable. They're not," Dr. McCaughey writes. "Unclean hands and contaminated equipment are largely to blame."

At least 23 infants in the Philadelphia' hospital's neonatal intensive care unit contracted viral infections stemming from the same 2016 sterilization breach, according to a lawsuit filed in August. But the incident at the children's hospital is far from isolated, Dr. McCaughey argues.

Five insights from the op-ed:

1. Melanie Sanders, the 16-week-old girl who died, made headlines because her parents are suing the hospital, Dr. McCaughey says, but most families lack that option. "They count on government to make sure hospitals are safe," she says. "Don't bet on it."

2. The CDC fails to keep strict hygiene standards for hospitals and "leaves the public in the dark" as opposed to warning it about infection outbreaks at local hospitals. The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits hospitals, does not disclose its hospital inspection findings, Dr. McCaughey says. "This conspiracy of silence is literally killing us," she writes.

3. Dr. McCaughey praises Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for urging the Joint Commission to release its inspection reports.

"That's essential, because being an accredited hospital means nothing when more than 99 percent of hospitals pass, no matter how bad their conditions," Dr. McCaughey says.

4. Dr. McCaughey also highlights other infection control incidents, including when methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus sickened 10 newborns at Orange, Calif.-based UC Irvine Medical Center two years ago. "The hospital kept the outbreak under wraps," Dr. McCaughey writes. "The CDC is supposed to work for us — the public — but it goes along with cover-ups."

Additionally, when 38 patients at Park Ridge, Ill.-based Advocate Lutheran General Hospital contracted a deadly super­bug while being treated with a gastrointestinal scope in 2013, the CDC omitted the hospital's name in its report, calling it "hospital A," Dr. McCaughey says.

5. "The agency doesn't even know how many patients are dying from hospital infections," Dr. McCaughey writes.

The agency's data on infection deaths are four years out of date, while its website links to Ebola­ deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo even though Ebola­ has killed only one person in the U.S., she says.

"The CDC and other government health agencies need to wage an all-out campaign against the infection scourge, because using a hospital is becoming too dangerous, whether you're a baby boomer or a tiny baby like Melanie Sanders," Dr. McCaughey says.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:
CDC urges public to get flu shot by end of October
Sick pets may harbor superbugs affecting human health
New York VA hospital physician misreported patients' surgical outcomes, investigation reveals

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