Staying in an intensive care unit can be dangerous. A study of more than 1,000 hospitals around the world shows that about 50 percent of patients in an intensive care unit develop an infection that increases their risk of dying.
Only the very sick are admitted to intensive care units. They are patients whose immune systems may be fragile, patients who may be just hanging on to life.
A new study looked at a single day of more than 1,200 intensive care units, or ICUs, in 75 countries.
"There is an additional perhaps 10 to 15 percent mortality risk associated with acquiring an infection in the ICU [intensive care unit]," Dr. John Marshall said.
Dr. Marshall, University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital, is one of the study's authors. He and other researchers found that more than half of some 14,000 patients in the study on that one day, developed infections in intensive care units. The data shows that these patients were twice as likely to die as those who did not succumb to infections.
"Sixty percent of the infections were pneumonias, about 20 percent were
infections inside the abdomen and about 15 percent were infections of the urinary tract," Dr. Marshall explained.
In addition to being very sick, patients in intensive care may be on ventilators. They may be hooked up to intravenous lines or may be using catheters which increase the risk of infection.
"One of the things that this study actually allows us to do, is to begin to get a sense as to how much of the burden of infection is an added burden on a patient who is already at risk of dying because of the underlying diseases that led them to be in the intensive care unit," Dr. Marshall said.
Two other important findings came from this study: patients who stayed in an ICU seven days or more were more likely to become infected, and patients in developing countries were more at risk than those in ICUs in wealthier countries.
The researchers say they hope the study leads to better infection prevention and management.