Going into hospital far riskier than flying: WHO

A surgeon washes his hands before enter in an operating room at a hospital in Marseille, France, April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

GENEVA | Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:23pm EDT

(Reuters) – Millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care and going into hospital is far riskier than flying, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

“If you were admitted to hospital tomorrow in any country… your chances of being subjected to an error in your care would be something like 1 in 10. Your chances of dying due to an error in health care would be 1 in 300,” Liam Donaldson, the WHO’s newly appointed envoy for patient safety, told a news briefing.

This compared with a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers, according to Donaldson, formerly England’s chief medical officer.

“It shows that health care generally worldwide still has a long way to go,” he said.

Hundreds of millions of people suffer infections linked to health care each year. Patients should ask questions and be part of decision-making in hospitals, which must use basic hygiene standards and WHO’s checklist to ensure safe surgical procedures were followed.

More than 50 percent of acquired infections can be prevented if health care workers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based handrub before treating patients.

Of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health care-associated infection, according to the United Nations agency.

“The longer patients stay in an ICU (intensive care unit), the more at risk they become of acquiring an infection,” it said. Medical devices such as urinary catheters and ventilators are associated with high infection rates.

‘HIGH-RISK BUSINESS’

Each year in the United States, 1.7 million infections are acquired in hospital, leading to 100,000 deaths, a far higher rate than in Europe where 4.5 million infections cause 37,000 deaths, according to WHO.

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