Hospital-acquired infections killed 48,000 patients: study

Pneumonia and sepsis caused by hospital-acquired infections killed 48,000 people and increased U.S. healthcare costs by $8.1 billion in 2006, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed 69 million discharge records from hospitals in 40 states and identified these two conditions that are caused by hospital-acquired infections: sepsis—a potentially lethal, systemic response to infection—and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract.

They found that people who developed sepsis after surgery stayed in the hospital 11 days longer and the infections led to an additional $33,000 per person in treatment costs. The team also reported that nearly 20% of the people who developed sepsis after surgery died as a result of the infection. For patients who developed pneumonia after surgery, they stayed in the hospital an extra 14 days and the cases cost an extra $46,000 per person to treat. In 11% of those cases, the patients died. Both conditions are often caused by deadly microbes, including the antibiotic-resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

“In many cases, these conditions could have been avoided with infection control in hospitals,” Ramanan Laxminarayan said in a news release about the findings. Laxminarayan is the principal investigator for Extending the Cure, a project that examines antibiotic resistance and that is based at Resources for the Future, a think tank in Washington. “Infections that are acquired during the course of a hospital stay cost the United States a staggering amount in terms of lives lost and healthcare costs,” he added. “Hospitals and other healthcare providers must act now to protect patients from this growing menace.”

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio which provides funding for ideas that could lead to breakthroughs in health and healthcare.