MONDAY, July 23, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer nurses at a hospital may mean more infections and life-threatening pneumonia for patients, research shows.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a serious infection caused by bacteria entering the lungs whenever ventilator tubing is used. It's one of the most common preventable problems affecting people who are critically ill in the hospital and can extend a patient's stay at the hospital by an average of 10 days and cost $10,000 to $40,000 to treat.
For a new study published in the open access journal Critical Care, researchers examined the number of patients who were admitted to the intensive care unit at the University of Geneva Hospitals in Switzerland.
More than a fifth of the 936 patients who received mechanical ventilation during the study developed VAP.
The researchers noted that when there were fewer nurses on duty, patients were more likely to develop VAP six days or more after being placed on a ventilator. The nurses' training level had no effect on infection rates.
VAP most likely develops when bacteria are transferred between patients or from one site to another in the same patient.
The authors concluded that this study supports their previous findings on ICU infection risks. They proposed that employing more than two nurses per patient per day would prevent a large proportion of infections. In this study, there was an average ratio of two nurses per patient per day.
"This study shows that a low nurse-to-patient ratio increases the risk of late-onset VAP," researcher Stephane Hugonnet said in a prepared statement. "It adds also to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that adequate staffing is a key determinant and a prerequisite for adequate care and patient safety."
There's more on pneumonia at the American Lung Association.