Overall burden of healthcare-associated infections among surgical patients. Results of a national study

Ann Surg. 2011 Feb;253(2):365-70. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e318202fda9.


Objective: To assess the overall burden of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in patients exposed and nonexposed to surgery.

Background: Targeted HAI surveillance is common in healthcare institutions, but may underestimate the overall burden of disease.

Methods: Prevalence study among patients hospitalized in 50 acute care hospitals participating in the Swiss Nosocomial Infection Prevalence surveillance program.

Results: Of 8273 patients, 3377 (40.8%) had recent surgery. Overall, HAI was present in 358 (10.6%) patients exposed to surgery, but only in 206 (4.2%) of 4896 nonexposed (P < 0.001). Prevalence of surgical site infection (SSI) was 5.4%. Healthcare-associated infections prevalence excluding SSI was 6.5% in patients with surgery and 4.7% in those without (P < 0.0001). Patients exposed to surgery carried less intrinsic risk factors for infection (age >60 years, 55.6% vs 63.0%; American Society of Anesthesiologists score >3,5.9% vs 9.3%; McCabe for rapidly fatal disease, 3.9% vs 6.6%; Charlson comorbidity index >2, 12.3% vs 20.9%, respectively; all P < 0.001) than those nonexposed, but more extrinsic risk factors (urinary catheters, 39.6%vs 14.1%; central venous catheters, 17.8% vs 7.1%; mechanical ventilation, 4.7% vs 1.3%; intensive care stay, 18.3% vs 8.8%, respectively; all P<0.001). Exposure to surgery independently predicted an increased risk of HAI (odds ratio 2.43; 95% CI 2.0–3.0).

Conclusions: Despite a lower intrinsic risk, patients exposed to surgery carried more than twice the overall HAI burden than those nonexposed; almost half was accountable to SSI. Extending infection control efforts beyond SSI prevention in these patients might be rewarding, especially because of the extrinsic nature of risk factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology*
  • Cross Infection / microbiology
  • Female
  • Hospital Units
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Surgical Wound Infection / epidemiology*
  • Surgical Wound Infection / microbiology
  • Switzerland / epidemiology