Infections Caught in Hospitals Kill 48,000 in U.S. Every Year

Infections that patients caught in hospitals in 2006 killed 48,000 and a cost a whopping $8.1 billion, reported Reuters, citing a study funded by Resources for the Future. Although the issue of <"">hospital-acquired infections has been gaining speed in media outlets, the study is the first of its kind to attach a price to the problem, noted Reuters.

Experts feel that problems such as this are adding to the growing cost of health care in the United States. “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 team said some 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections are diagnosed annually, wrote Reuters.

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

Patients who developed pneumonia were hospitalized for an additional 14 days following surgery, at $46,400 per patient, said Reuters; over 11 percent of the hospital-acquired pneumonia patients died, said the researchers.

“That’s the tragedy of such cases,” said Anup Malani of the University of Chicago, quoted Reuters. Malani who worked on the study also said that, “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.”

A large number of infections are due to drug-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which end up costing more because of the limited amount of medications that work against drug-resistant infections, said Reuters. According to Pfizer Inc. estimates, treating MRSA costs about $4 billion annually, noted Reuters. MRSA now has two main strains including the traditional, hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA) and Community-Acquired MRSA. Since physicians tend to work between hospital inpatient and outpatient areas, this is problematic.

About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); most occur in hospitals and other health-care settings. In the U.S., MRSA kills some 20,000 people annually, said Science Daily. According to 2005 CDC figures, nearly 19,000 people died in the U.S. from MRSA infections; 94,000 were seriously sickened.

We recently wrote that a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Acinetobacter—a very resistant bacterium—appears to be thriving in hospitals nationwide, according to Business Week. Looking at data (1999-2006) from 300 hospitals across the country, researchers saw an excess of a 300-percent increase in cases of Acinetobacter resistant to Primaxin (generic: Imipenem). Acinetobactor is generally found in patients being treated in the intensive care units of hospitals and often results in significant “pneumonias or bloodstream infections,” said Business Week, adding that the infections are not always cured with the most powerful of antibiotics.

Prevention infection is relatively simple, explained Reuters, and involves to prevent infection are simple and include careful hand washing, hygiene and screening patients when they check in. However, these measures are difficult to enforce, many studies have found.

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