Study: Infection rates high in pediatric ICUs

May 11, 2012 4:38:28 PM PDT
Having a child in intensive care is a scary ordeal, but an investigation by Consumer Reports finds there's even more reason to worry. Infections in pediatric intensive care units occur all too often, and many hospitals could do a much better job of preventing them.

Eighteen-month-old Josie King died after spending 10 days in a pediatric ICU, where she acquired a deadly infection. A Consumer Reports investigation has found that Josie's case is not an isolated one. The report analyzed 92 pediatric intensive care units in 31 states and Washington, DC, for rates of infection.

Dr. John Santa with Consumer Reports said, "The pediatric ICUs in our report had infection rates that were 20 percent higher than for adult ICUs."

Among the deadliest hospital-acquired infections are those introduced with central line catheters, which is what Josie King had. Those central lines deliver medication, nutrition and fluid to critically ill patients.

One of the pediatric ICUs top rated by Consumer Reports for preventing infections is the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

"It is essential that the central catheter be placed sterilely, and that nursing staff be specially trained to care for that catheter," said Dr. Vicki Craig with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

Otherwise, fatal infections can occur.

Dr. Santa said, "There are steps you can take to prevent infection. You must be an advocate for your child."

What parents can do is make sure their child's central line catheter is kept clean and that all doctors and nurses wash their hands. Keep a record of how often the staff changes the catheter and dressing. And ask if the catheter is still needed -- the longer it's in, the greater the risk of infection.

"Less than half of all pediatric ICUs make their infection rates public," said Dr. Santa. "So there are many more cases out there than we know about."

The pediatric ICU at Texas Children's Hospital was one of the 92 analyzed by Consumer Reports. It received a better than average rating.

Consumer Reports gave four other hospitals top ratings for preventing infections in pediatric intensive care units. The closest one to Houston is Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans.


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