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Sepsis, Pneumonia Caused by HAIs Killed 48,000 Patients in One Year, Study Says

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, February 23, 2010

In one of the largest national studies to date, two common conditions—sepsis and pneumonia—caused hospital acquired infections (HAIs) that killed an estimated 48,000 people and cost the healthcare system $8.1 billion in one year (2006), according to researchers in a new Archives of Internal Medicine study.

The researchers looked at HAIs that are often preventable, such as a serious bloodstream infection that could occur during surgery. The cost of these infections can be high: For example, individuals who developed sepsis after surgery stayed in the hospital an additional 11 days longer and the infections cost an extra $33,000 per person to treat. About 20% of people who developed sepsis after surgery died as a result of the infection.

The researchers also looked at pneumonia, and found that those who developed pneumonia after surgery, which is mostly preventable, stayed in the hospital an additional 14 days. These patients cost an extra $46,000 per person to treat. In 11% of the cases, the patient died because of the infection.

"HAI represents an easy way for us to reduce healthcare costs because [it helps] patients, insurers, as well as hospitals. There are no losers in doing better infection control," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, in a telebriefing. He is the principal investigator for Extending the Cure, a project examining antibiotic resistance based at the Washington, DC, Thinktank Resources for the Future.

For the study, Laxminarayan and his colleagues reviewed 69 million discharge records from hospitals in 40 states looking for sepsis or pneumonia cases.

"We tend to use a lot of antibiotics to control infections, and the use of those antibiotics leads to resistance," said Laxminarayan. "If we are to conserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, which are a precious national resource, we must do a better job of infection control."

While the goal is not to discourage the use of antibiotics for an appropriate use, different steps can be taken to more efficiently use antibiotics, he said. This includes:

  • Encouraging better vaccination rates to discourage diseases, such as influenze, that would need antibiotics.
  • Using better strategies when prescribing antibiotics—such as using combinations of antibiotics for treatments.
  • Making prescribers more responsible for when they prescribe antibiotics. "Providers don't bear the consequences, and that has to change," Laxminarayan said.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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