A Hospital Epidemic

Healthcare associated infections a risk for older people

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) We expect to go into the hospital to get better, not to become sicker. But sometimes hospital patients get infections that they didn't have before going to the hospital for treatment. And these infections could be costly.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are infections that patients develop while receiving treatment for another condition.

According to new data released by the Alliance for Aging Research (AAR), HAIs come with a big financial cost, both to hospitals and to individual patients. AAR also found that older adults have a higher risk of developing these infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged patients to take an active role in protecting themselves from HAIs.

"Wash your hands with soap and water."

According to AAR, a non-profit organization, 1.7 million Americans develop a healthcare-associated infection each year — a number that amounts to about one out of every 20 hospitalized patients.

CDC reported that HAIs can include bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections (associated with catheters), pneumonia (associated with ventilators), infections at surgical sites and gastrointestinal infections.

AAR estimated that these HAIs come at a direct cost to hospitals of between $28 and $45 billion each year. The financial burden also falls on patients, as AAR estimated that on average, hospital stays for patients with HAIs cost $43,000 more than the cost for patients without an infection.

Older adults are at a particularly high risk for developing an infection while in a healthcare setting. According to AAR, "Hospitalized elderly patients are two to five times more likely to develop a HAI than younger patients."

Furthermore, AAR estimated that in the year 2007, 45 percent of all HAIs occurred in patients aged 65 years and older.

"The main reason why age is a risk factor for infection is because of changes in immune function as we age," explained Carla Perissinotto, MD, geriatrics specialist, in an interview with dailyRx News.

"But even more important is that infections often present atypically in older adults, such that they may often be missed, diagnosed later, and therefore have more severe complications," said Dr. Perissinotto. "That is likely why the data in older adults is so concerning."

Dr. Perissinotto gave the example of a simple urinary infection presenting with symptoms like fatigue and confusion in an older patient, instead of the classic symptoms like frequent urination and burning sensations. Dr. Perissinotto said that these cases can be missed and only noticed when the infection has escalated to a serious stage.

According to AAR, controlling HAIs would greatly improve the health of the public and reduce the financial burden of HAIs.

"Practices that lead to a 20 percent reduction in preventable hospital-acquired HAIs would save up to $6.8 billion in medical costs. A 70 percent reduction would lead to a savings of up to $31.5 billion," AAR reported.

CDC noted the importance of patients taking steps to protect themselves from infection, including watching out for symptoms, washing hands thoroughly, taking medications as directed and not being afraid of asking questions while in the hospital.

"HAIs are not only a problem for individual healthcare facilities — they represent a public health issue that requires many people and organizations to work together in a comprehensive effort to attack these largely preventable infections," reported CDC.

Review Date: 
July 31, 2013
Last Updated:
August 1, 2013