World Bulletin / News Desk
On any given day, some 80,000 patients in Europe are fighting an infection they picked up in hospital, often while in intensive care, the EU's disease monitoring agency said in a survey published on Thursday.
Although some of these infections can be treated easily, others - like the superbug MRSA and other drug-resistant bugs - can be fatal or affect patients' health very seriously, taking several months of costly hospital care and medication to beat.
A survey by the European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (ECDC) found that on any given day, one in 18 patients in European hospitals has at least one hospital-acquired infection - amounting to around 3.2 million patients per year.
"Healthcare-associated infections pose a major public health problem and a threat to European patients," said Marc Sprenger, director of the Stockholm-based ECDC.
He said many of these infections could be prevented by well thought-out, sustained and multi-pronged prevention and control programmes and he urged hospitals to step up the fight.
"Such programmes, as well as prudent use of antibiotics, will help all actors involved to protect the patients of European hospitals," he said in a statement.
The ECDC warned last year that doctors are increasingly having to turn to last-ditch antibiotics due to growing drug-resistant superbug infections in Europe - many of them acquired in hospitals.
The latest survey, which covered 1,000 hospitals in 30 European countries, found the highest rates of hospital-acquired infections were among patients admitted to intensive care units, where 19.5 percent of patients had at least one bug they had picked up from the hospital.
The most common types of infection are respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and infections of the bloodstream. These are often caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae and E. coli bacteria, both of which have shown an ability to develop resistance to some of the most powerful antibiotics.
Among a total 15,000 reported healthcare-associated infections, surgical site infections and urinary tract infections are also common. Many of the infections are also found to be drug-resistant "superbugs", the survey showed.
Among all infections with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in which full testing was carried out, more than 40 percent were reported as resistant to methicillin - in other words they were MRSA infections, the ECDC said.
Worldwide, MRSA infects an estimated 53 million people annually and costs more than $20 billion a year to treat. It kills around 20,000 people a year in the United States and a similar number in Europe.
EU health and consumer affairs commissioner Paola Testori Coggi said the findings of the European survey were "worrying" and urged health authorities to do more to protect patients in hospital and to step up the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of overcoming them.
Experts say hospitals are often guilty of overusing antibiotics, giving them as "blanket" treatments before full testing has established which drugs are really needed.
Students in a private Australian high school have recreated a malaria drug in the school laboratory
2 studies claim psilocybin, outlawed by federal government, could significantly improve patients’ mood
Global crises changing nature of hotel industry, expert warns Mediterranean Week of Economic Leaders conference
Fighting climate change means different things in different cities, as this snapshot illustrates:
The Paris deal, now in force, calls for capping global warming at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and at 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible.
British MPs voted in February to allow the creation of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies with DNA from three people.
The H5N6 virus was first confirmed on November 18 at a farm in central South Korea and it has since spread to farms around the country, with the total number of cases now standing at 46.
It is one of the biggest clinical trials involving the disease ever undertaken and has revived hopes in the scientific community of a breakthrough in the battle against AIDS.
Nuclear energy: who's advancing and who's retreating
A killer bird flu that is sweeping Europe has forced Sweden to cull more than 200,000 chickens
Study finds blood of old mice makes young mice feeble; scientists hope to discover more in human trials soon
Drug overdoses are now killing more Americans than car crashes, putting the sheer scale of the crisis into perspective.
The idea of clean air, potable water and healthy food free from heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants as a human right emerged in the mid-1970s.
60 percent of all Kenyans have never been tested for disease, says report
Average temperatures for the year were set to hit about 1.2 Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- meaning that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record were this century, said the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).