Survey reveals more than half of all Americans have first-hand experience with serious infections

A national survey sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to assess consumer awareness of serious infections found a majority of consumers (66 percent) have either heard or read about the problem of antibiotic resistance in treating serious infections.

The majority (52 percent) believe antibiotic resistance is a very or extremely serious problem in the U.S. healthcare system overall. Most consumers (85 percent) also understand that many strains of bacteria are currently resistant to the antibiotics that were once effective in treating them.

"Antibiotic resistance is a significant factor in the rise in serious infections, and is making it more difficult for clinicians to treat infections," said Susan J. Rehm, MD, NFID medical director and staff physician, Department of Infectious Disease, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "As existing antibiotics become less effective against the bacteria that cause serious infections, we need to have new antibiotic options available to physicians to treat these infections."

Experience with Infections

The survey revealed that a total of 52 percent of all consumers have contracted a serious infection in the hospital or the community or know someone who has. Among people who have contracted these infections, 43 percent of those with hospital-associated infections and 19 percent of those with community-acquired infections describe the infection as extremely severe or the most severe medical condition they have had.

Despite this high level of awareness and experience, there is almost no realization of the extent of the issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), two million patients contract hospital-associated infections annually, yet 91 percent of consumers believe this number to be lower, according to the survey.

The survey found that more than one-third of consumers (36 percent) are familiar with community-acquired infections, and have heard of a person who contracted these infections in a health club or school facility. In fact, almost one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers have personally acquired an infection in the community.

"The results of this survey reflect growing consumer awareness of and experience with serious infections," said Dr. Rehm. "The incidence of these infections is on the rise. As more consumers come in contact with these infections, they will begin to realize that this is a growing healthcare concern."

The prevalence of serious infections has added to the cost of U.S. healthcare. The CDC estimates that hospital-associated infections alone add as much as $5 billion annually to the cost of healthcare. Yet almost all consumers (88 percent) believed that figure to be lower.

The CDC also reports that 90,000 people die annually from hospital- associated infections. Yet, 84 percent of consumers surveyed incorrectly believe that more people die from automobile accidents, breast cancer or AIDS than from these infections.

"Medical breakthroughs have allowed us to keep patients alive longer than ever before," said Dr. Rehm. "This means more patients are sicker than ever before, many with compromised immune systems. These weakened patients are more susceptible to infection and are contributing to the higher incidence of infection that we're seeing."

Ipsos conducted this study for NFID in May 2005. The purpose of the study was to ascertain among the general adult population:

  • Their awareness of the prevalence of hospital- and community-acquired infections
  • The difficulty of treating infections, especially drug-resistance issues
  • The personal impact and experience of infection
  • The concern about infection risks in hospitals and the community

The findings presented in this report are based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,003 adults, 18 and older. This study is based on a statistical sample that provides a representative cross section of the adult population of the continental United States. The margin of error for 1,003 interviews is +/- 3.1 percentage points. Interviewing was conducted during the period May 10-12, 2005. This survey was funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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