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Hospital-Acquired Infections Costly in Both Lives and Dollars


Hospital-acquired infections are not only costly in terms of money, but also result in many deaths each year. A newly published study found that in 2006 alone, the two most common conditions caused by hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) killed 48,000 people and added $8.1 billion to health care cost.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, Ph.D and colleagues have published in the Archives of Internal Medicine the largest nationally representative study to date of the toll taken by sepsis and pneumonia. These infections, often caused by deadly microbes, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA, can lead to longer hospital stays, serious complications and even death.

The researchers, using the Nationwide Inpatient Sample database, examined data from 69 million records of patients discharged from hospitals in 40 states of the US. Using this data, they looked specifically for infections which developed after hospitalization and identified two conditions: sepsis, a potentially lethal systemic response to infection and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract.

The researchers were interested in infections that are often preventable, like a serious bloodstream infection that occurs because of a lapse in sterile technique during surgery. The study found that nearly 20% of patients with post-surgery sepsis died as a result of the infection. The costs from these infections are high: people who developed sepsis after surgery stayed in the hospital 11 days longer and the infections cost an extra $33,000 per person to treat.

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When the researchers looked at pneumonia, they found people who developed the condition after surgery stayed on average an extra 14 days in hospital at an additional treatment cost of 46,000 dollars per person. They found 11% of patients with hospital-acquired pneumonia died as a result of the infection.

According to the authors, HAIs frequently are caused by microbes that defy treatment with common antibiotics. "These superbugs are increasingly difficult to treat and, in some cases, trigger infections that ultimately cause the body's organs to shut down," said Malani.

"The nation urgently needs a comprehensive approach to reduce the risk posed by these deadly infections," he added. "Improving infection control is a clear way to both improve patient outcomes and lower health care costs."

Both Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan and Dr Anup Malani are working on Extending the Cure.


Clinical and Economic Outcomes Attributable to Health Care-Associated Sepsis and Pneumonia; Arch Intern Med, Vol. 170 No. 4, February 22, 2010, pp 347-353; Michael R. Eber; Ramanan Laxminarayan; Eli N. Perencevich; Anup Malani