Sepsis Patients More Likely To Contract Hospital-Acquired Infections in ICU: Study

New research suggests that patients with sepsis are more likely to contract infections in hospital intensive care units (ICU), and the consequences of these infections are likely to be severe. 

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last month, Dutch researchers found that sepsis patients face a higher risk of catheter-related bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and abdominal infections. The infections led to more severe health effects, including a slightly increased risk of death.

Researchers conducted an observational study of about 4,000 patients who spent more than 48 hours in an intensive care units in the Netherlands between January 2011 and July 2013. They found that ICU infections occurred in 13.5% of sepsis admissions, and nearly 11% of those patients died within 60 days, which is 2% higher than non-sepsis ICU patients.

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“Intensive care unit-acquired infections occurred more commonly in patients with sepsis with higher disease severity, but such infections contributed only modestly to overall mortality,” the researchers concluded. “The genomic response of patients with sepsis was consistent with immune suppression at the onset of secondary infection.”

Researchers found that 26.3% of infections among patients with sepsis were catheter-related bloodstream infections, followed by 25.4% who contracted pneumonia, and 15.9% diagnosed with abdominal infections.

Hospital Infection Concerns

In 2014, a study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 4% of patients are diagnosed with hospital-acquired infections. The agency found that while intensive care patients are often presumed to be the most vulnerable, more than half of those infections occurred outside of the intensive care unit.

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.

According to the CDC, about 750,000 people are hospitalized each year in the U.S. due to sepsis. From 2000 to 2010, the rate of deaths due to sepsis infections increased 17%, and hospital deaths related to sepsis increased from 45,000 to 135,000.

Sepsis occurs when the body overreacts to an infection, causing the immune system to begin damaging the body’s own tissues as well as combating foreign bacteria. Every hour that treatment is delayed lowers the rate of survival by about 8%, yet many hospitals fail to immediately diagnose sepsis and do not begin providing appropriate treatment for four to six hours.

Symptoms of septic shock are often vague, including:

  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increase heart rate
  • Declining blood pressure
  • Weakness

A 2010 study found that, despite its widespread prevalence, 60% of Americans had never heard of sepsis and do not know the signs of septic shock.

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.


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