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Hospital infection rate falls in Western Pennsylvania

Western Pennsylvania is way ahead of the country when it comes to attacking a deadly type of hospital-acquired infection, local health experts said Thursday after the release of a national report that shows the infection in decline.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said central-line bloodstream infections -- common in very sick patients who have catheters placed in their necks -- declined 18 percent between the period 2006-08 and the first six months of 2009. The region's two leading hospital networks have achieved more significant drops, according to experts with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and West Penn Allegheny Health System.

"Our goal is zero infections," said Dr. Sharon Kiely, vice president and chief quality officer at Allegheny General Hospital. Several patient floors and intensive care units in the North Side hospital have reported zero central-line infections in the past several years. "These infections are unacceptable."

Pennsylvania's infection ratio was below the national average.

The CDC report estimated about 1.7 million hospital infections occur in the United States annually, with central-line infections considered among the more serious. They add about $2.7 billion to health-care costs each year, CDC officials said.

"While we are encouraged by the 18 percent national reduction, we know that the number of infections can be lower," said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for health-care-associated infection prevention programs at the CDC. He said the nationwide drop is a significant step forward of meeting a goal of a 50 percent reduction in five years.

Dr. Carlene Muto, medical director of infection control at UPMC, said the hospital network continues its mission to eliminate central-line infections. The infections have dropped to zero in several units, she said.

"You're never done until you're at zero everywhere," Muto said.

In November, workers at all UPMC hospitals began using a twist-on device that disinfects the hub of the central line, an area where drugs are inserted that is prone to contamination.

"There is a cost associated with them, but infections not only cost money, they cost lives," she said. "If we can do anything to get our numbers down, it was worth looking at."

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