By Dr. Mercola
Hospital-acquired infections are a significant problem. According to 2011 statistics, 1 in 4 patients in the U.S. end up contracting some form of infection while in the hospital, and 205 Americans die from hospital-acquired infections each and every day.
In just one year (2011), an estimated 722,000 Americans contracted an infection during a stay in an acute care hospital, and about 75,000 of them died as a result of it.
The most common hospital-acquired infections include central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and clostridium difficile infections.
Contaminated Medical Scopes Implicated in Spread of Superbug Infections
Last year, Dr. Jeffrey Tokar, director of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and a paid consultant for a medical scope manufacturer, wrote an article1 discussing strategies to improve patient safety in light of superbug outbreaks traced back to contaminated medical scopes.
Now, Kaiser Health News points out that Tokar’s own cancer center was ground zero for at least three cases in which patients were infected with drug-resistant bacteria.
According to the article:2
“In accordance with federal rules, the hospital reported the possibility to the manufacturer … But the public was none the wiser.
The information only came to light … when a U.S. Senate committee unveiled the results of a yearlong investigation into scope-related infections that sickened nearly 200 patients across the country from 2012 to 2015, including those potential cases at Fox Chase in Philadelphia.
The incident in Philadelphia illustrates a larger problem, experts say: a lack of public disclosure when medical devices are suspected of posing a risk to patients …
[S]aid Lawrence Muscarella, Ph.D., a hospital-safety consultant … ‘Hospitals don’t realize the more transparent they are, the more infection risks would decrease. It looks like important information was missing from this paper.’ …”
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way for patients to determine where these kinds of infections are occurring, and whether your local hospital might be a hotspot.
According to the 2011 Health Grades Hospital Quality in America Study,3Hospitals that accept Medicare tend to be far riskier than others in this regard, but the FDA does not release the names of hospitals where infections are reported.
Asking the Right Questions Could Save Your Life
Last December, I interviewed David Lewis, Ph.D., a retired microbiologist, about how non-disposable flexible scopes such as sigmoidoscopes and colonoscopes can transmit infections between patients, due to the fact that they cannot be properly sterilized. Their design simply does not permit it.
Lewis was the microbiologist that uncovered the fact that dentists were spreading HIV by not properly sterilizing their equipment in the 1990s. When he uncovered the problem with scopes however, rather than being rewarded he was fired.
If you’re having a colonoscopy or any other procedure using a flexible endoscope done, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting an infection by asking the hospital or facility how the scope is cleaned, and which cleaning agent is used.
Some esophagoscopes and bronchoscopes have sterile sheaths with disposable air-water and biopsy channels, but many others do not, and must be cleaned between each use.
If the hospital or clinic uses glutaraldehyde, or the brand name Cidex, cancel your appointment and go elsewhere. About 80 percent of clinics use glutaraldehyde because it’s a less expensive alternative, however it does not do a good job of sterilizing the equipment.
If they use peracetic acid, your likelihood of contracting an infection from a previous patient is very slim.
So making a phone call or two before scheduling your appointment, asking what kind of scope will be used; whether it’s fully disposable or must be cleaned, and what they use to clean it with, could be a lifesaving strategy.
The ultimate long-term solution would be to create flexible scopes that can be autoclaved (heat sterilized). But manufacturers have not been pressured to come up with such a design. As noted by Lewis, it really boils down to federal agencies failing to take the contamination issue seriously enough.
Canadian Experts Dissuade Patients From Colonoscopies
While contamination risk was not cited as a reason for Canada’s updated recommendation to not use colonoscopy as a screen for colon cancer, it’s certainly a consideration that needs to be taken into account, no matter where you live.
Canada’s Task Force on Preventive Health care now recommends4 using guaiac fecal occult blood testing (gFOBT) or fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) when testing for colon cancer in adults over the age of 50 who have no symptoms of cancer and who are not in a high risk category.
According to Reuters:5
“Opposition to colonoscopy as a primary screening test for colon cancer stems from the lack of evidence showing it to be any better than other screening methods, the Task Force says …
These recommendations differ from those published by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2008, which support the use of FOBT, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy for colon cancer screening in adults aged 50 to 75.
‘Regardless of age, primary care providers should discuss the most appropriate choice of test with patients who are interested in screening, considering patient values and preferences as well as local test availability,’ the [Canadian] recommendations conclude.”
Antibiotic Resistance Likely to Reach Epidemic Proportions Worldwide
In the CDC’s 2013 report “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States,” no less than 18 superbugs were identified as “urgent, serious and concerning threats” to humankind.6
The majority of these dangerous bacteria are in the gram-negative category, because that variety has body armor that makes it extremely resistant to the immune response.
Most disturbing of all, an increasing number of bacteria are now exhibiting “panresistance” — meaning, resistance to every antibiotic in existence. One of the latest multi-drug resistant bacteria gaining ground is Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae(CRE), which produce an enzyme that breaks down antibiotics.
Hospitals are the most common source of this infection, which is lethal in about 9 percent of all cases. When the CRE infection affects your blood, the death rate jumps to 50 percent.7
In January, Canadian researchers issued a warning saying that antibiotic use in farming must be stopped if we’re to gain the upper hand against antibiotic-resistant disease. Canada recently began a surveillance program covering all Canadian hospitals, following reports that China had discovered a drug-resistant gene (MCR-1) with epidemic potential in animals, meat, and human patients.
MCR-1 is a gene mutation that makes bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic called colistin, and the rate of transfer of this genetic mutation between bacteria is exceptionally high.
While colistin has not been used much in human medicine in recent decades, it is widely used in China’s agriculture industry. This heavy use may have triggered the acquisition of MCR-1 by E. coli and other bacteria. As a member of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University said in a National Geographic interview, “It’s real world, empiric evidence that this thing can spread very widely. It’s almost like it possesses a universal key.”8
As noted by CBC News,9 “scientists in England and Wales, Denmark, Thailand and Laos, among others, have published similar findings.” Canada has also found the gene in three human cases. According to Michael Mulvey, Ph.D., head of antimicrobial resistance at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, “It’s the first such finding of the gene in North or South America, which confirms its global dissemination.”
Antibiotic Resistance Is Not the Only Cover-Up in Medicine
As reported by STAT News,10 “the regulatory system for reporting side effects caused by prescription drugs is producing its own kind of side effect — incomplete information about injuries that patients may have suffered.”
According to an analysis11 published in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, drug companies frequently fail to file comprehensive reports on side effects, thereby preventing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from assessing the scope of the threat to consumers.
Doctors and consumers can report drug side effects to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), and drug makers are required to not only report but also investigate side effects associated with their drugs and medical appliances. However, while drug makers file the vast majority of reports of serious or fatal side effects, compared to those filed by doctors and consumers the majority of their reports do not include key data.
As noted by STAT:
“For this reason, one of the study authors contends there are still wider implications … The analysis found that in 2014, the FDA received 528,192 new reports of a serious or fatal side effect, of which 4.7 percent were filed with the agency directly by doctors and consumers. Of those, 86 percent included complete information about four important data points— patient age and sex, the date the side effect occurred, and a specific medical term to describe the problem.
By contrast, drug makers filed 95.3 percent of side effect reports, but most were incomplete … nearly 38 percent lacked the patient’s sex and age, and 47 percent did not have the date when the problem occurred. Overall, reports involving patient deaths offered the least amount of complete information for all of the key data points…
‘With increasing pressure for the FDA to approve drugs fast but with less clinical testing, it is a major concern that postmarket surveillance has major problems that are not being addressed,’ said Thomas Moore, a senior scientist the Institute for Safe Medicination Practices …‘It is time for the FDA, the medical community, and industry to start work on a badly needed modernization’ of this ‘critical tool’ for monitoring safety.”
How Drug Ads Fool Consumers
Drug makers are also required to inform consumers about potential side effects in their ads. In another article,12 STAT News discusses how drug narrators “take the scariness out of side effects.” If you think about it, how is it that so many people voluntarily take, let alone ask their doctor for a drug that has very serious and in some cases lethal side effects?
“[T]he actors paid to deliver these warnings … say there’s an art to it. ‘We use the same approach medical professionals do, telling a patient calmly: ‘We’re going to perform this surgery and there’s a 60 percent chance you won’t live,’’ said Joey Schaljo, who has worked as a voiceover actor on drug ads and who has a knack for narrating endless lists of side effects …
Some ads use one narrator to talk about the benefits of the drug and a different actor to recite the risks — in a less engaging voice. Or the warning section may be written with more complex sentence structures, to make it harder for viewers to absorb …
Another common trick: Keep the voice actor who talks about risks off screen. Research has found that consumers absorb the most information when they can see people speaking rather than just hearing them … ‘There’s a shift in how the voice is used to make it easier to understand the benefits and less easy to understand the risks,’ said Ruth Day, a cognitive scientist at Duke University who has studied drug ads for more than a decade.”
Drug Companies Siphon Tax Dollars for Dangerous, Useless, Overpriced Drugs
As if it wasn’t enough that you pay with your health for the drug industry’s lackadaisical approach to side effects — both by their downplaying the risk of death or serious injury in their ads, and by their filing adverse event reports that are useless for predicting risk to other patients — you also pay for their crimes with your tax dollars.
Sovaldi, a hepatitis C drug made by Gilead was under investigation for 18 months by the Senate Finance Committee. In the end, the Committee decided that the price of the drug — $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 per treatment — “did not reflect the cost of research and development and that Gilead cared about ‘revenue’ not ‘affordability and accessibility,’” the Epoch Times13writes.
In 2014 alone, Medicare and Medicaid shelled out more than $5 BILLION for Sovaldi and another hepatitis C drug called Harvoni.
Writing for the New York Times,14 columnist Nicholas Kristof notes that in the year 2015, the drug industry “spent $272,000 in campaign donations per member of Congress … to bar the government from bargaining for drug prices in Medicare. That amounts to a $50 billion annual gift to pharmaceutical companies.”
“But Gilead is far from the only drug company camping out on our tax dollars,” Epoch Times reports. “Drug companies have devised elaborate schemes for drug sales to states … In 2008, the Texas attorney general’s office charged Risperdal maker Janssen (Johnson & Johnson’s psychiatric drug unit) with defrauding the state of millions ‘with [its] sophisticated and fraudulent marketing scheme,’ to ‘secure … Risperdal, on the state’s Medicaid preferred drug list’ …
The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $717 million on … Risperdal to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq only to discover after nine years that the drug worked no better than a placebo …
In Texas, a Medicaid ‘decision tree’ called the Texas Medical Algorithm Project was instituted that mandates that doctors prescribe the newest and most expensive psychiatric drugs first. The program was funded … by the Johnson & Johnson-linked Robert Wood Johnson Foundation … Another tactic that drug companies use is ‘helping’ states buy their own brand name drugs …
One such program sends registered nurses to the homes of patients who are on expensive brand drugs to ensure ‘compliance’ — that they have not stopped taking the drugs.”
To Protect Your Health, Avoid Antibiotics — Both in Medicine and Food
The conventional medical system has in many ways created just as many, if not more, problems than it has solved. Drugs are vastly overprescribed and misused, and this is particularly true for antibiotics — more than 80 percent of which are used in agriculture to fatten up livestock.
This routine practice has resulted in a manmade scourge of antibiotic-resistant disease, which is already rendering previously treatable infections lethal, and may soon turn even minor surgery into a dangerous proposition.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Regarding antibiotics, avoid using them unless absolutely necessary, and remember they don’t work for viral infections. Also opt for organic grass-fed and grass-finished meats, to avoid antibiotic residues and, more importantly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could kill you. This is a serious issue, so if you chose to eat meat, make sure it’s clean.
Strategies That Could Save Your Life If You’re Hospitalized
As for avoiding hospital-acquired infections, if you have to undergo a colonoscopy or other testing using a flexible medical scope, remember to call and ask how they clean their scopes, and what kind of cleaning solution they use. If the answer is glutaraldehyde (brand name Cidex), find another hospital or clinic — one that uses peracetic acid. This preliminary legwork will significantly decrease your risk of contracting an infection from a contaminated scope.
In the video above, Dr. Andrew Saul, co-author of the book, “Hospitals and Health: Your Orthomolecular Guide to a Shorter Hospital Stay,” discusses the dangers of hospital stays, the type of patient that tends to get killed the most, and how you can protect your health (indeed your very life) in the event you have to spend time in one.
For example, reminding nurses and doctors to wash their hands and change gloves before touching you can go a long way toward avoiding contamination with potentially lethal microbes.
Ideally, you should always have a personal advocate with you when you’re in a hospital; someone who can look after your best interests in the event you’re unable to speak up for yourself. It’s also important to understand that you, the patient, are the most powerful entity within the entire hospital system.
However, the system works on the assumption that the patient will not claim that power. Knowing your rights and responsibilities can help ensure your hospital stay is a safe and healing one.
Sources and References
- 1 Annals of Internal Medicine 2015;163(11):873-874
- 2 Kaiser Health News February 22, 2016
- 3 HealthGrades 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America Report
- 4 CMAJ February 22, 2016
- 5 Reuters February 22, 2016
- 6 CDC Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the US, 2013
- 7 Medicinenet.com October 5, 2015
- 8 National Geographic December 15, 2015
- 9 CBC News January 6, 2016
- 10 STAT News February 23, 2016
- 11 Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety February 10, 2016 DOI: 10.1002/pds.3979
- 12 STAT News February 18, 2016
- 13 Epoch Times February 20, 2016
- 14 New York Times February 18, 2016