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Monday, March 6, 2000
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 6393286

Hospital infections cost U.S. billions of dollars annually

Nearly $5 billion are added to U.S. health costs every year as a result of infections that patients get while they are hospitalized for other health problems, the CDC reported today during the 4th Decennial International Conference on Nosocomial and Healthcare-associated Infections in Atlanta.

"Our greatest concern is the illness and death that result from these infections," said CDC's William Jarvis, M.D., and scientific chair of the healthcare-associated infections conference sponsored by CDC. "But the economic costs are also quite high, and provide another compelling reason to reduce the number and severity of healthcare-associated infections."

CDC previously reported that nearly 2 million patients annually get an infection while being treated for another illness or injury, and nearly 88,000 die as a direct or indirect cause of their infection. The economic costs of these infections result largely from the extra days the patient has to stay in the hospital.

"If you get an infection while you're in the hospital for an operation for heart disease, for example," said Dr. Jarvis, "your hospital stay may be extended by days, and sometimes weeks, before the infection is cured."

In general, the number of extra days a patient has to spend in the hospital varies depending on the type of infection he or she gets: an estimated 1 to 4 days for a urinary tract infection, 7 to 8 days for an infection at the site of a surgery procedure, 7 to 21 days for a bloodstream infection, and 7 to 30 days for pneumonia.

"The costs vary, too," Dr. Jarvis said. "Anywhere from $600 or so for a urinary tract infection to $5,000 or more for pneumonia. Prolonged bloodstream infections can top $50,000."

Because insurance companies and other payers, such as Medicaid, may reimburse the hospital on the basis of the patient's original condition, and not for the infection the patient acquired during treatment, hospitals can lose hundreds to thousands of dollars on each of these infections.

"The best answer to both the human costs and the economic costs of these infections is an effective infection control program within each healthcare setting," Dr. Jarvis said. "A major purpose of the 4th Decennial conference is to bring together international experts in the field to develop the best infection control measures possible. Prevention of these infections is our major goal."

CDC included hospital-acquired infections as an important area of focus in its "Emerging Infectious Disease Plan for the 21st Century," especially as they relate to antimicrobial resistance. "As we enter the 21st century, many drugs for treatment of common infections are losing their effectiveness and, in some cases, no effective drug is available. Pathogenic microbes can be dangerous foes, especially in a hospital setting," noted James Hughes, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. "Collectively, these infections cause great suffering and represent a tremendous burden on society. Preventing as many healthcare-associated infections as possible is a high priority."

CDC hosts the conference every 10 years to update the medical community on new trends in healthcare infection prevention and control. The conference is cosponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiologists of America.


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