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Catheter Infections Fall by One-Third Since 2009, U.S. Says

Infections of central-line catheters used to medicate hospital patients have fallen by a third since the U.S. government set reduction goals in 2009, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The decrease, part of an initiative to cut such infections in half by 2013, has saved 1,250 lives and about $82 million in health spending, Sebelius said at an event today in Washington hosted by the Atlantic magazine. Reducing the infections to save money and lives is “low-hanging fruit,” she said.

About one in 20 U.S. hospital patients acquire an infection during their stays, costing the nation as much as $45 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said as many as 70 percent of the cases could be prevented through steps such as frequent hand-washing by medical professionals.

While some hospital infections have been reduced in the past decade, such as those related to antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria, infections of a germ that causes life-threatening diarrhea “are at historic highs,” Sebelius’s department said in a statement.

The bacterium, called clostridium difficile, kills about 14,000 people a year and costs $1 billion to treat each year. The government is seeking a 30 percent reduction in the infections by 2013.

The government also plans to expand its infection-reduction initiative beyond hospitals, to nursing homes, dialysis centers and clinics, where about 75 percent of clostridium difficile infections are contracted.

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