Between 1991 and 2006, more than 617,000 hospitalizations tied to “premise plumbing pathogens” resulted in around $9 billion in Medicare payments.

(via Healthcare Finance): A new analysis of 100 million Medicare records from U.S. adults aged 65 and older reveals rising healthcare costs for infections associated with 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 “premise 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, the study authors wrote. Antibiotic resistance, which can be exacerbated by aging public water infrastructure, was present in between 1 and 2 percent of hospitalizations, and increased the cost per case by between 10 to 40 percent. The study was published Monday in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

“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,” said lead study author Elena Naumova, professor at the Friedman School and director of the Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease at Tufts University, in a statement. “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. 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.”

State and federal oversight has ensured generally safe public drinking water in the United States. However, premise plumbing systems — the pipes and fixtures in homes and buildings that transport water after delivery by public water utilities — are largely unregulated, which the authors said can lead to inconsistent monitoring and reporting of potentially harmful deficiencies.

This is highlighted by the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, where a water source change, aging pipes, and lack of corrosion control not only exposed thousands of children to elevated lead levels in drinking water, but is also thought to have triggered an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that led to 10 deaths.

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