THURSDAY, Aug. 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term alcohol use raises the risk of infection after surgery, and post-surgery pneumonia rates are three to four times higher in alcoholics. But a new study may help many patients avoid those dangers.
German researchers say infusions of low-dose ethanol, morphine or ketoconazole (an anti-fungal agent) dramatically reduced the rate of post-surgical pneumonia -- from 39 percent to 5.7 percent -- in alcoholic patients who had aerodigestive tract surgery for cancer.
The aerodigestive tract refers to the combined organs and tissues of the respiratory tract and upper parts of the digestive tract, including the lips, mouth, tongue, nose, throat, vocal cords and part of the esophagus and windpipe.
According to a team from Charite-University Medicine Berlin, the infusions began just before surgery and continued until three days after surgery.
The experimental treatments shortened patients' ICU stays by nine days, the study of 53 patients found. Those who received the treatment stayed in the ICU for two days, compared to 11 days for those who received the placebo.
The findings were published in the current issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The researchers believe the infusions helped inhibit cortisol response in the patients. High levels of cortisol are common in long-term alcoholics after they've had surgery. Elevated levels of this hormone cause immune suppression and are associated with increased infection rates.
The American Lung Association has more about pneumonia.