Pneumonia, sepsis linked to 48,000 HAI-deaths annually

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Better infection control practices could help hospitals save up to 48,000 lives and as much as $8.1 billion each year in extra costs, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Even more disturbing: The study identifies hospital acquired infections (HAIs) as the cause of half of all infection-related deaths. 

"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," said Dr. Anup Malani, a study co-author and a professor at the University of Chicago.

In what is believed to be the largest nationally representative study to date of the toll taken by sepsis and pneumonia, Malani and principal investigator Ramanan Laxminarayan, of Washington, D.C.-based think-tank Resources for the Future, reviewed 69 million discharge records from hospitals in 40 states in 2006. They found that patients who contracted sepsis after surgery had hospital stays that were an average of 11 days longer, and additional average costs of $33,000 per person. Even worse; 20 percent of those patients died. Pneumonia patients' numbers were similar, with stays increasing by 14 days and costs jumping by $46,000 per person. Eleven percent of patients who contracted pneumonia died. 

Laxminarayan believes that the uproar in such cases would be much louder if the patients were infected by, say, HIV-tainted blood, rather than an HAI like pneumonia. "When a patient goes to the hospital for another illness and dies of pneumonia, it does not always occur to the family that it was a mistake," he told WebMD Health News

 Johns Hopkins researcher Peter Pronovost, who also published his own hospital-acquired infection study in the British Medical Journal earlier this month, thinks that this study actually brings to light what he called an "invisible" problem. 

"The public doesn't know," Pronovost told WebMD Health News. HAIs "are happening one at a time, silently, and patients think they are inevitable. But we know from our large patient studies this is not the case." 

To learn more:
- read this press release
- check out this WebMD Health News article
- read this Wall Street Journal Health Blog piece
- here's part of Dr. Laxminarayan's study
- here's Dr. Pronovost's study