An Avoidable Killer

When you go to a hospital, odds are you don't expect to come down with problems you didn't have before.

But, experts say, one out of every 20 hospital patients in the United States, some 2 million in all, comes down with an infection each year. And an estimated 103,000 of them die.

Infections contracted in hospitals are the fourth largest killer in the U.S., causing as many deaths as AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.

Former New York Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey, who founded the Committee To Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Wednesday that such infections are getting more dangerous, but they're preventable.

She adds that most states allow hospitals to keep their infection rates secret, so you don't know how clean a hospital is before checking in.

The single most important way to reduce hospital infection, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is for doctors and other health care workers to clean their hands in between treating patients. Research indicates that doctors clean their hands before treating a patient only 48% of the time, and the rate is significantly worse at some hospitals.

Hospital infections add $28 billion to $30 billion to the nation's health costs each year.

McCaughey says the danger is growing because, increasingly, these infections can't be cured with commonly used antibiotics. One of the most dangerous germs is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which doesn't respond to most drugs.