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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

'Tribune' Reports Hospitals Spawning Outbreaks of Germs

Aired July 23, 2002 - 07:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to move on to another health story this morning. A frightening report that hospitals are spawning outbreaks of deadly germs.

Yesterday, we told you about a report in the "Chicago Tribune" that documented an infection epidemic at U.S. hospitals. It kills more Americans each year than fires, car accidents and drownings combined.

Well, this morning that same newspaper is reporting that deadly drug resistant germs are actually leaving the hospital, infecting folks outside of the hospital setting.

CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta joins us to talk about how it happens and what can be done about it -- good morning, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: You're a doctor. You spend a lot of time in the operating room. Have you seen evidence of these germs flying out of the hospital into areas where people shouldn't be exposed to these germs?

GUPTA: Yes, clearly, Paula. It's happening. And not unexpectedly. I think that the fact that there are more and more resistant bacteria in hospitals made it likely that we'd start seeing those in the communities, as well. In fact, that's exactly what the report that you just referenced, the "Chicago Tribune" reference, a thousand percent increase over the last decade in these resistant bacteria in the communities.

Now, they're citing all sorts of different reasons for why this might be happening. Paula, you and I talked a little bit yesterday about lapses in infection control, simple things like washing hands, things like that.

Also, increased antibiotic usage, Paula. People are using antibiotics more and more indiscriminately. Every time they have even a viral infection, people are throwing antibiotics at that. Clearly, that's a problem.

And also because of probably budget cuts and hospitals not having as much money, patients are leaving the hospital sooner and sometimes leaving with pretty deadly bacteria that can sometimes get in the community that way. It's a real problem, Paula. It has a lot of people concerned.

We are starting to see organisms now that are resistant to every antibiotic that we know of. In fact, in Michigan just this past month, they actually had the world's first completely resistant bacteria that was seen. And that obviously has a lot of doctors very concerned.

ZAHN: So what is the essence of the report, then? You get this infection in the hospital and then you contaminate everybody when you go home? Is that how people outside of the hospital setting are getting infected?

GUPTA: Yes, that's basically right, for a few different reasons. One is that they're having the bacteria, they're leaving the hospital sooner, they're actually transmitting that bacteria to their family members. A lot of family members will actually transmit the bacteria to other people within the community.

Luckily when these bacteria get into the harsh environment outside the hospital, once they're actually transmitted to healthy people, they're not going to usually infect people. But in someone who's already sick, someone who has a huge response to the bacteria, they could obviously get sick and we're starting to see that.

ZAHN: And you put up the list and the causes of why these super germs are being created. So what are hospitals doing about it? And what should patients do?

GUPTA: Right. Well, hospitals certainly have some obligations here and some of them range from very complicated to very simple. Certainly, you've got to reduce the number of bacteria in the hospitals. That could be something complicated as air filtration systems or it could be something very simple like we talked about yesterday, Paula, actually washing people's hands.

Patients, if there's one thing that you can take away from this particular segment today, wash hands often. It's something we've known for hundreds of years and people still don't do it enough. It kills tens of thousands of people a year. We know that now. Clean and disinfect all surfaces regularly, including when you're cooking, things like that.

Get immunized. Boost your immunity. That is something that will prevent you from getting sick and make you less likely to get some of these bacteria. And finally, again, antibiotic use is not for every time you get a little sniffle or every time you get a little cold. Most times those are just viral infections. You don't need to be throwing antibiotics out at that. That's a message for both patients and doctors alike.

ZAHN: Very quickly, in closing, how many times have you been in the operating room where you haven't seen doctors properly wash their hands and nurses properly wash their hands? Be honest.

GUPTA: You know, I think it happens quite a bit, quite honestly. I mean the protocol for scrubbing your hands, doing the scrub, is six minutes. You have to wash your hands, every surface of your hand. That takes about six minutes. That probably doesn't happen as often as it should. There are little timers that you're supposed to set to make sure that you've washed for six minutes. People don't always set those timers. So probably not as good as everyone should be.

ZAHN: But we expect that you hear the ding of the six minute bell going off, right?

GUPTA: I hear it. And I have my little soapless solution that I carry around with me. I'm pretty good about it, Paula.

ZAHN: Good. That's why we like you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much. See you in the next hour.

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