NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Surgical Infections Spreading

September 17, 2003

Largely because of mounting resistance to common antibiotics, complications from surgery that were once easily treatable have become increasingly difficult to handle. The consequences are alarming: more post-surgery deaths, amputations and other severe complications.

  • Patients who develop surgical-site infections are 60 percent more likely to spend time in an intensive-care unit, five times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital and twice as likely to die than patients who don't get infections.
  • Each year as many as 780,000 patients may develop an infection from surgery, or about 2.6 percent of the 30 million operations performed annually.
  • While the overall chances of getting an infection are small, infection rates can be as high as 11 percent for some operations.
  • Such complications also add more than $1 billion annually to the nation's health-care bill, according to federal health analysts.

But many dangerous surgical infections don't have to happen. For the past four years, the government has had in place -- and almost every major surgical society has endorsed -- simple guidelines to help hospitals and doctors prevent them. Yet, recent studies show that in anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of surgeries, doctors aren't following the most basic prevention steps, like administering the recommended antibiotics before the operation.

Now federal health agencies are trying to bring surgeons and hospitals into line. The Centers for Disease Control, which issued the guidelines in 1999, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have joined forces in a far-reaching prevention effort. The goal is to cut the number of surgical infections in half by 2005.

Source: Laura Landro, "How to Keep the Hospital From Making You Sicker: Surgical Infections Become Harder to Treat, Prompting Stepped-Up Prevention Efforts," Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB106323038897073700,00.html


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