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The fifth leading cause of death in Australia last year?

New research indicates Hospital Associated Infections were the 5th leading cause of death in Australia last year.

Many already know about the dangers of not buckling up on the road or how important it is to regularly screen for diseases.

Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) are a largely invisible but pressing health concern and could be even more common than previously thought.

According to recent research by Monash University published in Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control, an estimated 170,574 adults admitted to public hospitals in Australia contract HAIs each year, resulting in 7,583 deaths. Making it the 5th leading cause of death in Australia.

To put those numbers into perspective, in 2020 there were 1,142 road deaths; 3,144 Australians died from breast cancer, one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia; and 6,500 deaths from heart attack.

Yet, death as a result of HAIs is not recorded and included in official records of causes of mortality.

Continued investment needed

The research concludes that hospital acquired infections are an urgent healthcare issue in Australia, making infection control and prevention – stopping the spread of infections – a continued investment priority.

Fortunately, there is work happening both in Australia and overseas to develop and implement effective infection control practices.

One encouraging example is Australian researcher Professor Brett Mitchell’s research in preventing HAIs, which recently won the 2022 Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research.

The award recognised his work and extensive research in infection control as well as plans to further develop practical approaches to prevent common HAIs and will provide funds to support his current research.

Why infection control is important

In Australia, one in ten hospital admissions acquire a HAI during their stay in hospital. Even when HAIs don’t lead to serious complications, infections prolong hospital stays – stretching healthcare resources and creating needless suffering for patients and their loved ones.

Added to that, effective infection control is only going to become a more pertinent issue due to increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs, which cause medicines to be less effective in treating infections. The WHO declared antimicrobial resistance to be one of the top ten health threats facing humanity.

It’s imperative that healthcare staff and facilities are supported with evidence-based, science-backed solutions to protect public health and prevent HAIs.