Hospital Infections Kill 48,000 Annually

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A stay in the hospital is supposed to make the patient better, not worse. But according to a study funded by Resources for the Future, in 2006, 48,000 hospital patients who caught infections during their stay died. A staggering $8.1 billion cost was affiliated, reports Reuters. This is the first hospital-acquired infections study to put a price on the problem, continued Reuters.

“In many cases, these conditions could have been avoided with better infection control in hospitals,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of Resources for the Future, quoted Reuters. The researchers said some 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections are diagnosed annually, wrote Reuters.

The group inspected 69 million patient hospital discharge records at hospitals in 40 states between 1998 and 2006, with two diagnoses in mind: Hospital-acquired pneumonia and the blood infection (sepsis), explained Reuters. Sepsis led to a 20 percent fatality rate in patients who developed the infection following surgery, said Laxminarayan and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Those patients required hospital stays of 11 days that cost about $32,900 each, added Reuters.

Persons who developed pneumonia had an additional 14 day hospital stay after surgery, at $46,400 per patient, said Reuters; over 11 percent of the hospital-acquired pneumonia patients died, the researchers noted.

“That’s the tragedy of such cases,” said Anup Malani of the University of Chicago, who was part of the study,“In some cases, relatively healthy people check into the hospital for routine surgery. They develop sepsis because of a lapse in infection control and they can die,” quoted Reuters.

Drug-resistant bacteria cause many of the infections, such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that costs more because of limited medications that work against drug-resistant infections, said Reuters. Pfizer Inc. estimates that treating MRSA costs approximately $4 billion annually, reports Reuters. MRSA presently has two main strains: the traditional, hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA) and Community-Acquired MRSA. The danger is that doctors often work between hospital inpatient and outpatient areas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) speculates around 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur annually in the U.S., mainly in hospitals and other health-care settings. MRSA also kills some 20,000 people in the U.S. each year, said Science Daily. CDC 2005  statistics reveal nearly 19,000 people died in the U.S. from MRSA infections and 94,000 were severely affected.

Preventing infection is relatively simple, said Reuters, and involves careful hand washing, hygiene and screening patients when they check in. However, various studies indicate these measures are difficult to enforce, although they shouldn’t be.