It’s like a sick joke. You go to hospital for care and come out sicker than when you went in. But it’s no laughing matter. Each year in Canada, between 8,000 and 12,000 people die of infections they acquired in hospital.
An important new Canadian study provides the first step in changing this grim pattern. A team of researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston has proven scientifically that shared hospital rooms are a culprit in spreading superbugs.
“There is a very strong relationship between the number of roommates and the risk of each infection,” said Dr. Dick Zoutman, an infection control expert at Kingston General Hospital and one of the authors of the study.
If you share a room with one other patient, your risk of getting a serious infection goes up by 10 per cent. And each roommate added raises your risk by another 10 per cent. So if you have five roommates, your risk of infection is up by 50 per cent, explained Zoutman.
The results were far more dramatic than the scientists expected.
“We found it quite shocking,” Zoutman told Metro in a phone interview. “We didn’t anticipate it would be that high. We went ‘Wow!’”
They thought each roommate might boost risk by one per cent.
Over a five-year period, Zoutman and his team studied whether patients in hospital for more than three days developed any of three serious infections. The infections were superbugs methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), as well as Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhea. These infections can be fatal.
Canadians, he said, are developing zero tolerance for hospital-acquired infection. “They are fed up.”
While it may seem obvious that sharing hospital rooms means sharing illness, decision-makers needed proof before changes could be made, said Zoutman.
He added that the results are valuable because policy-makers who decide how hospitals will be designed now have evidence that private rooms are safer.
They can justify spending the extra money.
The current system of dividing patient with curtains does not keep them safe from neighbours’ infection.
“It has to be walls,” said Zoutman.
Patients should have their own room and their own bathroom.
“The solution is designing safety and quality into hospital systems, so hospitals are safer. We want to have it that you can’t transmit infections in hospital. My goal is zero. This is a step in the right direction.”