Red blood cell transfusions and nosocomial infections in critically ill patients*

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A previous retrospective evaluation of Project Impact data demonstrated an association between red blood cell transfusions, nosocomial infections, and poorer outcomes in critically ill patients, independent of survival probability or patient age. The objective of this study was to determine whether transfused patients, independent of survival probability based on Mortality Prediction Model scores, have higher nosocomial infection rates, longer intensive care unit and hospital lengths of stay, and higher mortality rates than nontransfused patients.


Prospective, observational, cohort study.


A single-center, mixed medical/surgical, closed intensive care unit.


Adults admitted to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center between August 2001 and June 2003 (n = 2,085) were enrolled using Project Impact software. Both nonoperative and postoperative populations were represented, and transfusion decisions were made independently of patient study inclusion. Patients whose nosocomial infection was diagnosed before transfusion were counted as nontransfused.



Measurements and Main Results:

Nosocomial infections, mortality rates, and intensive care unit and hospital length of stay were the main outcome measures. Of the 2,085 patients enrolled, 21.5% received red blood cell transfusions. The posttransfusion nosocomial infection rate was 14.3% in 428 evaluable patients, significantly higher than that observed in nontransfused patients (5.8%; p < .0001, chi-square). In a multivariate analysis controlling for patient age, maximum storage age of red blood cells, and number of red blood cell transfusions, only the number of transfusions was independently associated with nosocomial infection (odds ratio 1.097; 95% confidence interval 1.028–1.171; p = .005). When corrected for survival probability, the risk of nosocomial infection associated with red blood cell transfusions remained statistically significant (p < .0001). Leukoreduction tended to reduce the nosocomial infection rate but not significantly. Mortality and length of stay (intensive care unit and hospital) were significantly higher in transfused patients, even when corrected for illness severity.


Red blood cell transfusions should be used sparingly, bearing in mind the potential risks of infection and poor outcomes in critically ill patients.


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Dr. Trottier has disclosed that he is an Airway Consultant for Smith’s Medical.


Mr. Fu has disclosed that he is an employee of John & Johnson Pharmaceutical. All remaining authors have disclosed that they have no financial relationships with or interests in any commercial companies pertaining to this educational activity.


Lippincott CME Institute, Inc., has identified and resolved all faculty conflicts of interest regarding this educational activity.


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