• November 15, 2011
  • Pneumonia the Most Common Serious Infection After Heart Surgery

  • Penn Led Study Also Reveals Most Infections Occur Two Weeks Post-Surgery

Philadelphia – New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has shown for the first time that pneumonia is the most common serious infection after heart surgery. The new study, presented at the 2011 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, also revealed that most infections occur about two weeks after surgery, not one week as physicians previously thought.

"In the past, focus has been on sternal wound infections after heart surgery, rather than other prevalent infections such as pneumonia," said Michael A. Acker, MD, the study’s lead researcher and chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at Penn. "This new research should help guide more effective management strategies to reduce overall occurrence of all infections."

In the new study, researchers analyzed more than 5,100 patients in the Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network (CTSN). Patients, average age 64, were treated at nine U.S. academic medical centers and one Canadian center. The median time to major infection was 14 days after heart surgeries. Forty-two percent of all major infections occurred after hospital discharge.

"Half of these patients had no evidence of infection before they were discharged from the hospital," Acker said. "Then they had to return because of the new infection. One implication is that patients must be followed more closely after discharge."

In this study, which excluded patients who were infected before surgery, researchers found 761 infections: 300 were classified as major infections (occurring in 6 percent of patients) and 461 were minor (in 8.1 percent of patients). 

The most commonly performed procedures were isolated coronary artery bypass graft and aortic and mitral valve surgeries.

Several risk factors appeared to increase the risk of developing infection, including congestive heart failure, hypertension, chronic lung disease, corticosteroid use prior to surgery, and length of cardiopulmonary bypass time.

The study was funded, in part, by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Read more about the full study through the American Heart Association news release http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/_prv-pneumonia-most-common-infection-217814.aspx.


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.



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