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Health Beat: Nurse bags: A hospital health threat?

Published On: Jun 24 2013 12:15:32 PM EDT   Updated On: Jun 27 2013 05:51:04 PM EDT

Getting sick or dying from something you catch while in the hospital happens more than you may think.


Getting sick or dying from something you catch while in the hospital happens more than you may think with 1.7 million people getting infections in hospitals every year. Nearly 100,000 people will die from them.

While hospitals have safety measures in place, they can’t protect you from what they don’t know is a potential threat.

Resuscitation bags, known as Ambu-bags, can be lifesavers, but they may also be a danger. Ambu-bags are used by medical personnel to deliver oxygen to patients who cannot breathe.


If contaminated, the Ambu-bag can collect bacteria, which could be transmitted to the patient and contribute to the potentially deadly ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Safety guidelines for using the bags are vague. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends only that they be replaced as needed or when they’re visibly soiled.

“Well, what may be visibly soiled doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not infectious because you can’t see bacteria," said Lorene D. Cathey, a registered nurse and director of infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

That prompted registered nurse Niki Rasnake to lead a study at the University of Tennessee Medical Center to help establish new safety guidelines.

“I followed 147 patients through the first seven days of their hospital stay, if they were intubated, and I would take their actual bag. They would seem clean in appearance, but when we swabbed them, they did grow out bacterial growth," Rasnake said.

There was a seven to eight percent chance of contamination on the first two days of using the Ambu-bag, but that number jumped to nearly 30 percent by days five and six, Rasnake said.

“And that’s what alarmed us because a lot of people could be ventilated, on a ventilator, for anywhere from one to two weeks," Rasnake explained.

Thanks to Rasnake’s discovery, the hospital now changes the filters on its bags every four days.

Rasnake’s study, along with other measures, contributed to a 44 percent drop in ventilator-associated pneumonia cases over the past two years at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. She recently presented her findings at a national conference and hopes they will enhance safety precautions across the country.

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