Each year around 2.6 million Europeans are infected in hospital, and roughly 90,000 die. This has been discovered in a wide-ranging study, led by Alessandro Cassini from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

For the first time researchers also calculated how much life is lost because of hospital infections – for European citizens it is around two days every year. The results were published on Tuesday in the journal "Plos Medicine".

The scientists also found that infections picked up in hospitals have a bigger impact on the health system than tuberculosis, flu and AIDS. Hospital infections are now worse than all other infections observed by the ECDC.

Infections are avoidable

Most hospital infections are due to lack of hygiene: because doctors do not disinfect their hands or clean their surgical instruments thoroughly enough. In other words, hospital infections are avoidable.

The researchers carefully examined six types of hospital infection. Most of the deaths from hospital infections are caused by hospital-induced pulmonary infections and blood poisoning. The others they studied included hospital-induced urinary tract infections, wound inflammation after operations, C. difficile infections (which were often resistant to treatment with antibiotics), and blood poisoning in newborns. Overall, these diseases together caused more than 90,000 deaths a year in Europe. Particularly vulnerable were newborn babies and people aged 65 to 74 years.

‘A huge problem’

"This study is very important," says Axel Kramer, hygienist at the Greifswald University Hospital. Above all, he praised the conversion of the effects of hospital infections to lost years of life.

"The article shows that hospital infections are a huge problem," says Walter Popp, vice president of the German Society for Hospital Hygiene. He believes that the actual number of infections and deaths is even higher.

Petra Gastmeier, hygienist at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, evaluates the study as "the most resilient on the subject". But because they are partly based on extrapolated data, the figures should not be blindly believed. And: studies like this one include all infections which occur in the hospital from the third day a patient is there, as well as infections actually caused by hospital treatment. In fact, a patient with immunodeficiencies can become infected in the hospital, as they can anywhere else – simply by the bacteria that every human being carries on his or her skin.

We investigate multiresistant germs long term: correctiv.org/superbugs. Tips and questions to: hristio.boytchev@correctiv.org.

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