BOSTON (September 12, 2016)—A new analysis of 100 million Medicare records from U.S. adults aged 65 and older reveals rising healthcare costs for infections associated with opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens—disease-causing bacteria, such as Legionella—which can live inside drinking water distribution systems, including household and hospital water pipes.
A team led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Tufts University School of Medicine found that between 1991 and 2006, more than 617,000 hospitalizations related to three common plumbing pathogens resulted in around $9 billion in Medicare payments—an average of $600 million a year. The costs may now exceed $2 billion for 80,000 cases per year, write the study authors. Antibiotic resistance, which can be exacerbated by aging public water infrastructure, was present in between one and two percent of hospitalizations and increased the cost per case by between 10 to 40 percent.
“This is a clear call for deepened dialogue between researchers, government agencies, citizens, and policy makers, so that we can improve data sharing and find sustainable solutions to reduce the public health risks posed by these bacteria.”
“Premise plumbing pathogens can be found in drinking water, showers, hot tubs, medical instruments, kitchens, swimming pools—almost any premise where people use public water. The observed upward trend in associated infections is likely to continue, and aging water distribution systems might soon be an additional reservoir of costly multidrug resistance,” said lead study author Elena Naumova, Ph.D., professor at the Friedman School and Director of the Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease at Tufts University. “This is a clear call for deepened dialogue between researchers, government agencies, citizens, and policy makers, so that we can improve data sharing and find sustainable solutions to reduce the public health risks posed by these bacteria.”
The study was published online in the Journal of Public Health Policy on September 12.