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It happens to all of us eventually: you get injured, and have to go to the hospital. You might think that being surrounded by nurses and doctors would make it a safe place to be if you don’t want to get sick. In truth, they’re sometimes breeding grounds for more virulent infections.

Every year, an estimated 648,000 people in the U.S. develop infections during a hospital stay, and about 75,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For comparison, that’s over twice the amount who die every year in fatal car crashes. The infections include bacterial infections like MRSA and Clostridium difficile, which have grown resistant to common antibiotics.

Wait, there are bacteria who can resist antibiotics?

Not only can they, it’s a growing trend. The percentage of staph infections that shrug off antibiotics rose from 22 percent in 1997 to over 60 percent in 2007. It’s a simple evolutionary process: the widespread unnecessary use of antibiotics has killed off bacteria that are harmed by them, leaving behind the ones with genetic mutations that allow them to resist such drugs. Considering the speed with which bacteria evolve, it’s possible for this process—called antibiotic resistance—to produce lineages of “super bugs.” The infections these bugs cause can be difficult or impossible to treat.

So why are there so many of these in hospitals?

Hospitals are, by definition, where sick people gather, making them hotspots for infection and the spread of disease. Patients with serious infections are near others who are sick, vulnerable, or immunocompromised—and the same people and equipment are caring for everybody. In addition, many hospitals have a history of using antibiotics even in cases where they’re unnecessary or inappropriate, which give bacteria more chances to evolve resistance.

In addition, hospitals are sites where significant surgery happens: things like joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer therapy—as well as catheters, feeding tubes and IV drips—are only possible because the infections they often lead to are manageable. The result is a fertile field for resistant bacteria.

Are hospitals doing anything to combat this?

Hospitals have infection control standards to which they must adhere. CDC data shows that basic precautions like improved hand hygiene, taking more care about patient contact, and actively cleaning environments can work to reduce infections. Hospitals can also try to prevent or reduce the overall antibiotic resistance of bacteria by not overusing antimicrobial drugs. In the case of airborne infections, hospitals need to be regularly monitoring and testing their air balance and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. This can help identify airborne infection risks before the health of patients and staff are jeopardized.

Life Balance Technologies helps hospitals and other companies easily analyze air quality conditions and effectively manage their HVAC systems. By streamlining the process for compliance, auditing, and reporting, we help reduce costs and save lives.