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AGH's new cardiovascular care facility strips away fabrics to enhance infection control

Ben Schmitt
| Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
This illustration made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Shigella bacteria.
This illustration made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Shigella bacteria.

Despite the innovations and high tech equipment filling up Allegheny General Hospital's new $26 million cardiovascular care facility, visitors won't notice much linen, if any, and definitely no curtains.

There's a valid medical explanation for the new fabric-less facility: infection control.

“You do not want too much fabric. It collects and traps a lot of bacteria,” said Amy Snyder, AGH's director of the new facility's nursing unit. “Think about things like Ebola. Linens on beds is about all you're going to see in these rooms to keep our patients and staff safe. We have taken all of that into account.”

The patient rooms feature solid-surface counter tops designed to provide superior infection control.

Sterile safety zones play a key role in the ongoing fight against so-called “superbugs” and disease-causing bacteria. Increased awareness about superbugs continues to be a major point of emphasis in health care systems across the country.

Superbugs, or drug-resistant bacterial infections, kill 23,000 Americans a year and sicken 2 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has identified superbugs as a public health concern that continues to worsen.

“It is threatening to end modern medicine as we know it,” cautioned Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security.

Experts attribute much of the superbug escalation to society's overuse of antibiotics. The CDC estimates that more than half of the antibiotics given for upper respiratory infections and nearly a third of antibiotics used in hospitals are prescribed inappropriately.

Each unnecessary antibiotic prescription for a virus like the common cold plays into the rise of superbugs with names like “phantom menace.”

Superbugs often cause serious infections that are difficult to treat. These unrelenting germs have found ways to survive in the face of antibiotics, the drugs that usually kill bacteria.

When doctors unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics for a viral infection that won't respond, they're essentially destroying beneficial bacteria needed to protect against other infections.

“In literal terms, when you prescribe antibiotics for colds, you are playing into superbugs' fields,” Adalja said. “We have to be smarter about how to use antibiotics and think of them as a very important commodity that can't be squandered.”

Doctors sometimes feel pressured by patients or their families to prescribe an antibiotic, Adalja said. The broader the antibiotic in wiping out various forms of bacteria, the more harm it can cause to normal bacteria.

“A lot of doctors believe that patients expect to be given an antibiotic during a routine visit,” he said. “It's a problem in high-density areas where urgent care centers are competing with each other in terms of patient satisfaction and volume. They're trying to outdo each other.

“What people should be doing is asking their doctor: ‘Do I really need this antibiotic?' ”

During a visit to Pittsburgh in October, neurosurgeon and CNN Chief Medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta called antibiotic resistant bacteria the most important medical story in the news.

Last year, the White House got involved and released a plan to combat the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. During a national forum last summer, more than 150 organizations pledged to improve antibiotic use and slow the superbug spread.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the deadliest health threats facing the world,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “These pledges will help protect the antibiotics we have so we can use these miracle drugs to save lives for years to come.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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