(NaturalNews) A new study just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that an alarming number of Americans are dying in the hospital from two infectious diseases: sepsis (also known as systemic inflammatory response syndrome, it causes widespread inflammation and blood clotting and can lead to organ failure and death) and pneumonia. But the victims of these health problems weren't originally hospitalized because of these illnesses. Instead, they were in the hospital for other reasons. In fact, some were healthy and simply having an elective procedure. Yet they ended up dead.
The reason? These unfortunate patients became fatally ill from hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) caused primarily by both the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs and downright sloppy infection control by hospital medical staff.
Researchers with Extending the Cure (a project examining antibiotic resistance based at the Washington, D.C., think-tank Resources for the Future) conducted the largest nationally representative study to date to document the human and economic toll taken by two hospital-acquired infections that should be preventable, sepsis and pneumonia. Both conditions are caused by an array of pathogens, including the dangerous superbug dubbed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterial infection that has become highly resistant to many antibiotics. The researchers found that these germs are frequently being spread by sloppy infection control in hospitals.
The infections can result in longer hospital stays, serious complications and death. What's more, in 2006 alone they caused health care costs to soar by $8.1 billion and took the lives of 48,000 people, according to the new study.
"In many cases, these conditions could have been avoided with better infection control in hospitals," Ramanan Laxminarayan, Ph.D., principal investigator for the study said in a press statement. "Infections that are acquired during the course of a hospital stay cost the United States a staggering amount in terms of lives lost and health care costs. Hospitals and other health care providers must act now to protect patients from this growing menace."
Dr. Laxminarayan and his research team investigated 69 million discharge records from hospitals in 40 states and identified infections that developed after hospitalization. They scrutinized infections that are often preventable, including sepsis caused by a lapse in sterile technique during surgery. Not only do people who develop sepsis after surgery end up hospitalized an additional 11 days on average at an extra cost per person of about $33,000 for treatment, nearly 20 percent of them die as a result of the infection.
HAI pneumonia develops if a disease-causing microbe gets into the lungs -- such as when a dirty, germ-laden ventilator tube is used. The researchers found that people who come down with pneumonia after surgery remain in the hospital an extra two weeks at an additional cost of $46,000 per person for treatment. Moreover, in 11 percent of the cases, the patients die as a result of the HAI pneumonia infection.
"That's the tragedy of such cases. 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," Anup Malani, Ph.D., a study co-author, investigator at Extending the Cure, and professor at the University of Chicago, noted in a statement to the media.
According to the researchers, HAIs can be especially dangerous because they are often caused by bacteria that defy treatment with commonly used antibiotics. "These superbugs are increasingly difficult to treat and, in some cases, trigger infections that ultimately cause the body's organs to shut down," said Dr. Malani. "The nation urgently needs a comprehensive approach to reduce the risk posed by these deadly infections. Improving infection control is a clear way to both improve patient outcomes and lower health care costs."
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