ATLANTA (AP) _ Fewer prescriptions and cleaner hands could help cut down on in-hospital infections that have risen 36 percent over the past 20 years, the federal government says.

Hospital infections, which kill about 90,000 people a year in the United States, are fueled by bacteria that are growing more and more resistant to the drugs commonly used against them. The top six bacteria found in hospitals are all resistant to at least one drug.

In 1995, 9.8 infections occurred per 1,000 patient days in a sampling of U.S. hospitals, up from 7.2 per 1,000 in 1975, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented Wednesday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Infection experts said health workers need to be more conscientious about washing their hands and have to control antibiotic prescriptions.

``The Holy Grail for infection control is a way to improve handwashing,'' said Dr. Robert Weinstein, director of infectious diseases for Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

While it may seem like a simple solution, handwashing may be difficult to accomplish, he said. For example, a doctor treating several patients at once may not have enough time to wash between consultations.

``I think we will take a lead from the fast food industry,'' which is experimenting with microchips that light up on the badges of employees who don't wash regularly, he said.

Dr. William Jarvis, the CDC's director of hospital infection control, said overuse of antibiotics leads to drug-resistant bacteria.

The CDC recommended Wednesday using antibiotic order forms that would require doctors to justify each prescription and its dosage.

In Colorado, health officials are working on a public campaign to educate people that antibiotics don't work for coughs and colds so they shouldn't demand them, said Dr. Kenneth Gershman of the Colorado Department of Public Health.