Q: My husband needs surgery, and I want to make sure that he finds a hospital with a low hospital-acquired infection rate. I heard that copper and silver surfaces can kill MRSA bacteria and reduce infection risk. Is that right? -- Connie G., Tacoma, Washington
A: That’s true. But first, you should know that hospitals publish their infection rates. And if you’re looking at a large hospital, like the Cleveland Clinic, remember that you need to find out what the infection rate is in the surgical section where he’ll be. Large facilities see such a wide variety of patients in so many situations that an overall rate isn’t really informative.
That leads us to copper- and silver-impregnated surfaces, which do reduce hospital-acquired infections, although more studies are needed. One major study recently was done in coordination with the intensive-care units at the Medical University of South Carolina, the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City. It found that installing copper on 10 percent of surfaces in ICUs cut hospital-acquired infections by 58 percent. Copper (and silver) work by neutralizing MRSA and C. difficile molecules.
If other researchers can duplicate the results, copper- and silver-alloy surfaces may become standard in hospitals. That could spell a victory for patients and the health-care system. Currently in the U.S., over 4 percent of hospital patients get hospital-acquired infections. That ends up costing the health-care system $35-$45 billion annually, and by some estimates, 100,000 lives!
But some folks aren’t waiting for the next study. The Pullman Regional Hospital in Washington state has a grant to install copper on IV poles, door handles and handicap punch plates, water faucets and other public-use surfaces. According to the Copper Development Association, more than 450 antimicrobial copper alloys are available, with colors ranging from red to yellow to silvery-gray. The Environmental Protection Agency even has a copper/copper alloy surface maintenance protocol. (Last October Sherwin-Williams introduced an antimicrobial paint that kills MRSA 99.99 percent of the time.)
But if the surgical ward’s infection rate is low, you don’t have to worry if it hasn’t yet installed copper in ICUs and operating rooms.
Q: My mom is taking pills for so many things; I just don’t know that it’s safe. How can I be sure she’s OK with all the prescriptions and supplements? -- Sally Jean J., Chicago
A: That’s a huge concern for doctors, pharmacists and patients these days. According to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, the number of adults 65 and older who are at risk for dangerous drug interactions has almost doubled since 2005. The prescription meds that are being taken most often and fueling this increased risk include a mix of anti-hyperlipidemic agents (statins, etc.), antidepressants, prescription proton-pump inhibitors, sedatives and muscle relaxants.
Plus, almost half of adults don’t tell their doctors or pharmacists about alternative remedies and supplements they’re taking. That’s a medicine chest full of trouble! Clearly, doctors, pharmacists and patients need to be more aware and reduce the associated risks. Our recommendations:
1. Make a list of your mom’s meds, their doses and how long she’s been taking them; then list the nutritional supplements and herbal remedies she takes.
2. Make sure she gets all her medications from one pharmacy, so the pharmacists there can spot conflicts.
3. Review the list with your pharmacist. He or she is your best and most underused medical resource. Take notes or record the conversation on your smartphone.
4. Make an appointment with her primary-care doctor and review her meds and the comments from the pharmacist. Talk with the doc about interactions between prescription medicines, supplements and non-prescription medications she takes. Then ask if she still needs each prescribed medication, or if the dose could be reduced.
5. Anytime your mom is prescribed a new medication or says she want to take an over-the-counter remedy or supplement, think, “Whoa, Nellie!” Investigate how it will interact with what she’s already taking.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.