SUNDAY, May 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Bloodstream infections -- also known as sepsis -- occur in about 10 percent of hospital patients in the United States but contribute to as many as half of all hospital deaths, a new study says.
The study was to be presented Sunday in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society (ATS).
Sepsis is common, affecting as many as 750,000 hospitalized patients in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though hospitalization rates fell between 2000 and 2010, the number of sepsis-related deaths among hospital patients rose 17 percent during that time, from 45,000 to 135,000.
And in the new study, "we were surprised to find that as many as one in two patients dying in U.S. hospitals had sepsis," study lead author Dr. Vincent Liu, of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California division of research, said in an ATS news release.
Liu's team tracked data from 6.5 million hospitalizations in 2010. They found that as many as 52 percent of patients who died had a blood infection at the time. The death rate was over 10 percent for patients who had such infections compared to only about 1 percent for those without them.
Fighting blood infections was also very expensive. The investigators found that sepsis hospitalizations comprised more than one-fifth of all hospital charges.
"Teasing apart these findings in a similar regional study of sepsis [deaths] at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, we found that most patients already had sepsis at the time of hospital admission. There was also a large number of patients with less severe sepsis, a group for whom treatment guidelines are less well-defined," Liu added.
The findings "suggest that improved care for sepsis patients of all severity levels and in all hospital settings could result in many future lives saved," Liu concluded.
Sepsis is the most expensive cause of hospitalization in the United States, with an annual cost of more than $24 billion, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more about sepsis.