THURSDAY, May 27, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Hospitals across the United States are seeing a decrease of serious, often deadly infections from catheters placed in patients' necks, called central line catheters, a new report finds.
"Health care-associated infections are a significant medical and public health problem in the United States," Dr. Don Wright, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Healthcare Quality in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said during a noon teleconference Thursday.
Bloodstream infections occur when bacteria from the patient's skin or from the environment get into the blood. "These are serious infections that can cause death," said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, the associate director for Healthcare-Associated Infection Prevention Programs in CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.
Central lines can be important conduits for these infections, he said. These lines are typically reserved for the sickest patients and are usually inserted into the large blood vessels of the neck. Once in place, they are used to provide medications and help monitor patients.
"It has been estimated that there are approximately 1.7 million health care-associated infections in hospitals alone each and every year, resulting in 100,000 lives lost and an additional $30 billion in health care costs," Wright said.
In 2009, HHS started a program aimed at eliminating health care-related infections, the experts said. One goal: to cut central line infections by 50 percent by 2013.
To this end, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday released its latest update on the progress so far.
The report represents the first consistent tracking of blood infections caused by central venous lines across 17 states and "the results of the report are encouraging," Wright said.
Srinivasan agreed. According to the study, there has been "an 18 percent national decrease in central line-associated bloodstream infections during the first six months of 2009, compared to the previous three years," he said.
Srinivasan noted that most central line blood infections are preventable.
"We believe this decrease represents broader implementation of CDC guidelines and improved practices at the local level," he said. "The bottom line of this reduction is that we believe care in hospitals is getting safer, but we know there is more work to be done."
The report serves as a baseline to see how the country as a whole is faring in regard to these infections and also provides data so individual states can see where they stand, Srinivasan said.
On a state-by-state level, Vermont had the fewest infections, while Maryland had the most, according to the report.
"The real test will be comparing this data with future reports, which will be published every six months," he said. "At that point we can judge progress over time and determine whether these efforts are driving infections down."
Future reports will include all states, Srinivasan said. The states in the current dataset are those that currently have laws mandating the reporting of hospital infections to the CDC.
For more information on hospital-based infections, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.