Hospitals losing the war on "Superbugs": Your wallet loses, too.

Hospitals are losing the war on bacteria and it is costing you money. The Health Protection Agency (HPA), which monitors infections, is particularly worried about a group of bacteria known as "gram-negative," which are extremely common and include Escherichia coli. This bug is the most common cause of urinary tract infections, causing about 70-80% of all cystitis cases, and can also cause pneumonia and other infections. According to recent estimates, it is resistant to all antibiotics in about 12% of cases.

This new "superbug" is in addition to the cases of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that has increased 62% in general hospitalized patients in recent years. A study by a University of Florida researcher found that MRSA has more than doubled between 1999 and 2005, soaring from 127,000 to nearly 280,000 cases. The study concluded that MRSA and staph infections are now "endemic, and in some cases epidemic" in many U.S. Hospitals, long-term care facilities and communities.

Hospital-acquired infections from all causes result in an estimated 90,000 deaths per year and are the sixth-leading cause of death nationally. They also increase patient suffering and the length of time patients spend in the hospital -- in addition to direct health care costs, estimated to be more than $6 billion annually.

So what can the average consumer do to combat this "superbugs?" Surprisingly, plenty. Part of the problem has been the overuse of antibiotics for several decades. While many physicians and healthcare professionals have become much more judicious about prescribing these drugs, patients, too often, still demand them. Don't take them unless you really need them and make sure you finish the entire course even if you feel better. Superbugs often develop because they were not killed completely and are able to mutate to a resistant form.

And stay out of hospitals and nursing care facilities. My mother recently had a total knee replacement and left the hospital in three days. We were able to arrange for physical therapy, meals on wheels, and other services that were paid for by Medicare. It is much safer (and quieter) to return home and get in-home care than stay in a facility. It is a lot cheaper too.

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