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Decontaminating patients cuts infections

CHICAGO -- Infections in U.S. hospitals kill tens of thousands each year, and many institutions fight back by screening new patients to see if they carry a dangerous germ, and isolating those who do. But a big study suggests a far more effective approach: decontaminating every patient in intensive care.

Washing everyone with antiseptic wipes and giving them antibiotic nose ointment reduced bloodstream infections dramatically in the study at more than 40 U.S. hospitals.

The practice could prove controversial, because it would involve even uninfected patients and because it could lead to germs becoming more resistant to antibiotics. But it worked better than screening methods.

The study found that 54 patients would need to be decontaminated to prevent one bloodstream infection.

Nevertheless, the findings are "very dramatic" and will lead to changes in practice and probably new laws, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious-disease specialist who was not involved in the research. Some hospitals are already on board.

The study targeted ICU patients, who tend to be older, sicker, weaker and most likely to be infected with dangerous bacteria. After decontamination, they were more than 40 percent less likely to get a bloodstream infection of any type than patients who had been screened and isolated for a dangerous germ.

The study was published online yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. -- AP

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