FRIDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Hospital patients with alcohol use disorders who develop health care-associated infections are more likely to die from the infections, have longer hospital stays and higher hospital costs than those without alcohol disorders, a new study finds.

Health care-associated infections are infections that patients acquire while in the hospital or another acute care setting. Patients with alcohol use disorders are at increased risk for such infections, which affect about 1.7 million patients a year in the United States, according to background information in the study.

Alcohol use disorders are typically alcohol abuse, alcoholism or another drinking pattern that causes distress or harm, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

In the new study, researchers analyzed 2007 data from the U.S. Nationwide Inpatient Sample and published their findings online and in the July print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Patients with alcohol use disorders who developed health care-associated infections had a 71 percent higher risk of dying from the infections, had a two-day longer length of stay in the hospital and had about $7,500 more in hospital costs compared to patients without alcohol use disorders who developed such infections, first author Marjolein de Wit, associate professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a journal news release.

"In addition, alcohol use disorder patients with health care-associated pneumonia or sepsis were younger, had a lower income, had frequent emergencies and experienced less surgery," Claudia Spies, head of the department of anesthesiology and intensive care medicine at the University Hospital Charite Universitaetsmedizin Berlin, Germany, said in the news release. "However, despite having fewer [co-existing illnesses], they died more often," Spies added.

"Much can be done to decrease the risk of developing health care-associated infections," de Wit noted. "'External' measures such as hand washing and head-of-bed elevation are important factors in decreasing the risk of health care-associated infections, and can be undertaken by all health care providers."

However, preventing health care-associated infections in patients with alcohol use disorders also requires therapeutic interventions specifically targeting hospitalized patients with these disorders, de Wit added.

She also said it's crucial that patients discuss their drinking behaviors with doctors.

"This is important both when a hospital admission is scheduled as well as at the time of an emergency hospital admission," de Wit said. "In the case with scheduled surgeries, such as an elective surgery, one month pre-operative abstinence may decrease the risk" of health care-associated infections.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about alcohol use disorders.