According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare-associated infections account for an estimated 1.7 million illnesses and 99,000 deaths each year. That’s nearly 7 times the number of deaths due to AIDS. In the past decade, almost every type of bacteria has become less responsive to commonly used antibiotics. Because of resistance, common infections now pose significant danger of morbidity and mortality. Today, resistant infections have crossed hospital boundaries to threaten communities, invading schools and locker rooms at an epidemic rate. We’re forced to fight these infections with more expensive drugs that cause greater toxicity. The worst part: we’re having less effect.

In addition, antibiotic resistant infections cost more to treat than sensitive infections. These economic costs are not separate from the health costs of resistant infections, as sicker patients requiring longer hospital stays and stronger, more expensive antibiotic treatment generate additional costs to hospitals, health insurers, and the patients themselves. Infections are often not discovered to be resistant until well into the course of treatment, which frequently means initial antibiotic therapy for resistant infections is ineffective, adding to the length and costs of hospitalizations. Recent estimates of the added costs of resistant infections are in the range of $6,000–$30,000 per hospital case, although there is little consensus on the precise costs, and these estimates do not include indirect economic costs associated with long-term morbidity or mortality.

Understanding the true costs of antibiotic resistant infections, most of which are associated with the hospital environment, is essential to determine the cost savings associated with measures to curb the spread of infections and antibiotic resistance. The costs of sensitive hospital-acquired infections are important as well, because even sensitive infections increase antibiotic use in hospitals, which may perpetuate the problem of antibiotic resistance.