One out of every 25 hospital patients acquires an infection somewhere in the health care system, according to data released by government health officials.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the results of a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) prevalence survey last month, which found that during 2011 there were about 75,000 hospital patients died after contracting infections they did not have when they first entered the healthcare system.
It is unclear whether the infections caused or contributed to all of those fatalities. The CDC report was published on March 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The CDC estimated that there were 722,000 HAIs, also known as hospital-acquired infections, in U.S. acute care hospitals in 2011. While intensive care patients are often presumed to be the most vulnerable, CDC researchers discovered that more than half of those HAIs occurred outside of the intensive care unit.
Researchers gleaned their data from random patient surveys conducted in 183 hospitals. They found that out of 11,282 surveyed patients, 4% had one or more health care-associated infections. Clostridium difficile was the most commonly reported pathogen, with 107,700 cases.
Pneumonia and Surgical site infections from inpatient surgery were tied as the most common classifications of hospital infections, with about 157,500 cases each. They were followed by 123,100 gastrointestinal infections, 93,300 urinary tract infections, 71,900 primary bloodstream infections, and 118,000 other various types of infections that the report did not classify.
Despite the seemingly high numbers, the CDC says that health care and infection prevention are moving in the right direction. From 1990 through 2002, there were 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections per year, suggesting the rate of HAIs dropped by more than half in about a decade. During the 1970s, that number was at about 2.1 million annual hospital infections.
Healthcare officials and researchers admit there is still much to be done, however. The CDC researchers in this study concluded that the survey indicates that hospitals should continue to address C. difficile infections.
“As device- and procedure-associated infections decrease, consideration should be given to expanding surveillance and prevention activities to include other health care-associated infections,” they added.
The findings come about a month after researchers from RAND Corporation and the Center for Health Policy at Columbia University published a study suggesting that many hospitals are not following infection guidelines or providing enough support to infection prevention efforts.
In recent years, an increasing number of medical malpractice lawsuits over hospital infections are being filed, as many experts believe that these infections can be prevented with the exercise of reasonable care.
According to prior research, preventable hospital infections cost the U.S. Economy nearly $19.5 billion in 2008 and claimed more than 2,500 lives that year.
Implementation of simple procedures, such as more frequent hand washing for healthcare professionals, timely removal of catheters deterring prolonged use and thorough instrument and patient room cleaning are widely recognized steps that can prevent many of these hospital infection problems.