Europe sees millions of hospital-caught infections a year, killing thousands of people. The first ever study of hospital-acquired infections in European hospitals has found that the combined health impact of these infections is twice that of the combined burden of 32 infections caught outside hospitals, including flu, HIV and tuberculosis.
The study analysed data from 1149 hospitals in 30 European countries. It estimates that between 2011 and 2012, more than 2.5 million hospital-acquired infections were caught across Europe. This means that one in every 20 patients caught an infection during their time in hospital. An estimated 90,000 people died.
“The most common were urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and pneumonia, each accounting for 20 per cent of the total number of cases,” says study leader Alessandro Cassini of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Solna, Sweden.
“A significant proportion of the infections were related to invasive procedures and devices that are essential elements of modern medicine, such as mechanical ventilation, and catheters in veins and the urinary tract,” says Cassini. “These procedures can be life-saving, but also bypass important defence barriers of the body, predisposing patients to infection.”
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Besides causing 90,000 deaths, the infections also led to long-term conditions and disabilities, including cognitive and physical impairment and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cassini estimates that around a third of the infections are preventable through better hygiene, detection and improved infection control. “There’s a need to intensify efforts to prevent and control infections caught in European hospitals to make them safer places,” he says.
A survey is now under way to gauge the scale of hospital infections in the UK. “Since 2008, rates of bloodstream infection have dropped by 82 and 75 per cent respectively for MRSA and Clostridium difficile,” says Alan Johnson of the government agency Public Health England. “We are actively working to further understand these infections to help improve interventions and reduce rates further,” he says.
Journal reference: PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002150