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Why hospital infections top HIV, flu and TB

Dagmar Breitenbach
October 18, 2016

If you're in hospital, take care - take very good care. A new study suggests the risk of hospital infections is higher than that of a number of global infectious diseases together, including HIV and flu.

Image: Fotolia/Irochka

You would think it was the other way around. But six healthcare-associated infections are a bigger burden on hospitals than influenza, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis together.

The big six are pneumonia, urinary tract and surgical site infections, Clostridium difficile (CDI, which results in antibiotic-associated diarrhea), neonatal sepsis and primary bloodstream infections. And they are all things you can contract while being treated for other things in hospital.

That's the conclusion of a study on Tuesday in Plos Medicine, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science.

Threat to patient safety

Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) are the "most frequent adverse event in healthcare delivery worldwide," according to the World Health Organization (WHO) - with hundreds of millions of patients affected every year across the globe.

Infografik Die häufigsten und tödlichsten Krankenhausinfektionen in Europa Englisch
Image: DW

The EU and the European Economic Area face more than 2.5 million cases of hospital infections every year, the study suggests - and they are estimated to result in a burden of about as many so-called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) - the years of a healthy life lost. The term is used to measure the impact of diseases on the health of a population. 

Communicable diseases

HAIs are a common and largely preventable complication of hospitalization and surgery, and affect as many as one in 20 patients, the study says.

They are associated with increased morbidity, mortality and costs. So cutting down on healthcare-associated infections in the EU and the European Economic Area should be "an achievable goal," the authors of the study write.

Based on the methodology of the Burden of Communicable Diseases in Europe (BCoDE) project, the study uses data from a 2011/2012 survey by the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on healthcare-associated infections in European acute care hospitals.

The study is, according to its authors, "a solid first attempt" at estimating the burden of hospital infections, including the role of comorbidities, that is coexisiting multiple diseases. They stress "the need for intensified efforts to prevent and control these infections, ultimately making European hospitals safer places."