RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You can almost guarantee that a neighborhood homicide or car-accident fatality will make the nightly news. But you probably won't hear about someone dying from a preventable infection he or she caught in the hospital, even though it happens more often than a homicide or car death, according to a new study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. "The most telling thing is how big the numbers are," says study coauthor Anup Malani, PhD, professor of law and Aaron Director Research Scholar at the University of Chicago. The number of people who die because of infections caused by hospitals in the U.S. is more than the number of people who die from AIDS, firearm shootings, and auto accidents. These preventable infections also tax an already-strained healthcare system, costing about $8.1 billion a year.
THE DETAILS: Investigators for Extending the Cure, a project that focuses on antibiotic resistance, analyzed 69 million hospital discharge records from hospitals in 40 states. They focused on two common conditions caused by hospital-acquired infections: sepsis and pneumonia. These conditions are often caused by dangerous microbes, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA. “In many cases, these two conditions could have been avoided with better infection control in hospitals,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, principal investigator for Extending the Cure. Sepsis is a serious condition that develops when the bloodstream is overwhelmed with bacteria. In hospital-derived infections, this is often the result of faulty sterilization techniques during surgery. Pneumonia is a severe respiratory infection that, when it is contracted in the hospital, is usually caused by contaminated respirators.
Researchers found that among patients who developed sepsis after surgery, 20 percent died. The condition also resulted in 11 extra days in the hospital on average, and an additional $35,000 in hospital costs for each patient. Hospital-acquired pneumonia resulted in two extra weeks in the hospital and nearly $50,000 in additional costs per patient. In 11 percent of the pneumonia cases, the patients did not survive. "These so-called superbugs are increasingly difficult to treat and, in some cases, trigger infections that ultimately cause the body’s organs to shut down," Malani says.
Read on to learn about specific things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick while in the hospital.
Published on: February 25, 2010
Updated on: March 11, 2010