Bed occupancy rates and hospital-acquired infections—should beds be kept empty?


Corresponding author: K. Kaier, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University Medical Centre Freiburg, Breisacher Straße 115b, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany


Clin Microbiol Infect 2012; 18: 941–945


There is growing evidence that bed occupancy (BO) rates, overcrowding and understaffing influence the spread of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). In this article, a systematic review of the literature is presented, summarizing the evidence on the adverse effects of high BO rates and overcrowding in hospitals on the incidence of HAIs. A Pubmed database search identified 179 references, of which 44 were considered to be potentially relevant for full-text review. The majority (62.9%) focused on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus-associated infection or colonization. Only 12 studies were found that provided a statistical analysis of the impact of BO on HAI rates. The median BO rate of the analysed studies was 81.2%. The majority of studies (75%) indicated that BO rates and understaffing directly influence the incidence of HAIs. Only three studies showed no significant association between BO rates and the incidence of HAIs. Interestingly, only one of the included studies detected a seasonal trend in the BO rate. The present review shows an association between BO rates and the spread of HAIs in various settings. Because the evidence on this topic is limited, we conclude that further research is needed in order to analyse the rationale of a threshold BO rate, because keeping beds empty is comparatively costly.