Hospital-Acquired Infections Killed 48,000 Americans in One Year

According to a new study, sepsis and pneumonia, two common illnesses caused by hospital-acquired infections, killed 48,000 Americans in 2006, and cost the nation over 8 billion dollars to treat. The study, co-authored by Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan and Dr. Anup Malani, is titled,Clinical and Economic Outcomes Attributable to Health Care – Associated Sepsis and Pneumonia, and a report of it appears in the February 22nd issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Sepsis, a condition where the body goes into a state of inflammatory response, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract, are often caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria likeMRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). These infections usually lead to longer stays in the hospital and can lead to serious complications or even death.

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2002, patients who developed sepsis after surgery stayed an average of 11 extra days in the hospital and required an additional treatment cost of $33,000 per patient. The most alarming statistic showed that nearly 20 percent of people who developed sepsis after surgery died from the infection.

Researchers found that people who developed pneumonia after surgery stayed an average of 14 extra days in the hospital at an additional treatment cost of $46,000 per person. And in 11 percent of the cases, the patient died as a result of the infection-related pneumonia.

In many cases these illnesses could have been avoided with better infection control procedures in hospitals. Chlorine bleach, for example, is an EPA- registered hospital disinfectant that destroys hospital “superbugs” like MRSA and C. difficile. Hand-washing, a clean environment, appropriate infection barriers and early identification of patients at high risk for contamination remain the essential measures to prevent and control infection.

(Barbara M. Soule, R.N., is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council)