Infection risk for patients with drink problems

  • Deborah Condon

Hospital patients with drink problems are at an increased risk of contracting a hospital acquired infection (HAI) and are more likely to die from such an infection than their peers, the results of a new study indicate.

A HAI is an infection that a patient acquires during their hospitalisation that was not present at the time of admission. It can include anything from MRSA to pneumonia.

US researchers looked at people with alcohol use disorders (AUDs), which include alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. They evaluated patients with two types of HAI - pneumonia and sepsis, a serious bacterial infection. They assessed the patients' mortality, hospital length of stay and hospital costs.

The team based its data on a nationwide sample of inpatients from 2007 and then performed a retrospective study of all patients who developed healthcare-associated pneumonia or sepsis, while excluding patients who were transferred from another healthcare facility or who were diagnosed with community-acquired infections and cancer.

"Patients with AUDs who develop HAIs had a 71% higher odds of dying and had a two-day longer hospital length of stay compared to patients without AUDs who develop HAIs," the researchers said.

Not surprisingly, this led to greater hospital costs among the AUD patients.

"In addition, AUD patients with healthcare-associated pneumonia or sepsis were younger, had a lower income, had frequent emergencies and experienced less surgery. However, despite having fewer co-morbidities (other diseases), they died more often," the team from Virginia Commonwealth University noted.

The study pointed out that much can be done to decrease the risk of developing HAIs. External measures such as hand washing are important factors in decreasing the risk of these infections and can be undertaken by all healthcare providers. However, AUDs are factors intrinsic to patients, therefore preventing HAIs in patients with AUDs ‘requires therapeutic interventions specifically targeting hospitalised patients with AUDs'.

The researchers emphasised that it is very important for patients to discuss their alcohol consumption patterns with their doctors, despite the stigma they may feel.

"This is important both when a hospital admission is scheduled, as well as at the time of an emergency hospital admission. In the case with scheduled surgeries, such as an elective surgery, one month pre-operative abstinence may decrease the risk of HAIs," they explained.

Follow-up care for patients with an AUD diagnosis is also important, they added.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


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