The impact of infections on patient lives and healthcare costs has been well publicized by various organizations and government agencies. Figures such as greater than 1 million HAIs per year, 1 in every 20 inpatients and billions of dollars in healthcare expense1 have led to dramatic changes in how infection prevention is viewed by healthcare administrators, payers, and even the general public.
A recent article that passed through my inbox raised a new question in my mind in regards to the benefit of infection prevention: Can infection prevention possibly increase your IQ?
The article published by Benros, et. al. 2 describes the outcome of a large scale study performed on a cohort of approximately 162,000 young Danish males tested during years 2002-2012. The study group was evaluated for cognitive ability via an intelligence test that has been used by the Danish military since 1956 in which test scores were converted to parallel conventional IQ scaling with a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15. Thirty-five percent of the study participants had previous infection hospital contact.
The researchers found that hospital contacts with infections were associated with lower general cognitive scores than participants with no hospital infection contact (mean score of 1.76 units lower cognitive ability than average). In addition, the number and severity of infection were associated with a decrease in cognitive function in a dose-response relationship with the persistence of association even after adjustment for a wide variation of potential confounders. Though previous animal studies have shown that the immune system can affect cognitive capabilities, the authors’ research suggests that it may be the immune system’s response to the infection, resulting in the decreased cognitive function.
So as this study seems to suggest, infections may contribute to a significant decrease in cognitive ability or IQ in healthy individuals. So I pose the questions: Could healthcare associated infections be responsible for an intellectual decrease in the U.S.? And if so, conversely, can infection prevention possibly increase your IQ? Would love to hear your thoughts!
 Health and Human Services (HHS) National Action Plan to Prevent HealthCare-Associated Infections: Roadmap to Elimination April 2013 http://www.health.gov/hcq/pdfs/hai-action-plan-executive-summary.pdf
2 Benros ME, Sorensen HJ, Nielsen PR, Nordentoft M, Mortensen PB, Petersen L (2015) The Association between Infections and General Cognitive Ability in Young Men- A Nationwide Study. PLoS ONE 10 (5): e0124005. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124005
About the Author
Debra Hagberg, MT (ASCP), CIC is an Infection Prevention Clinical Program Manager for Sentri7.
Debra has more than 25 years of hospital/clinic infection control, consulting and sales experience. She has 10 years of clinical microbiology experience and 15 years of infection prevention experience in the hospital and clinic environment before she served as a clinical sales specialist and clinical liaison in the infection prevention product manufacturing industry. She also has experience on the business side of electronic infection surveillance technology supporting sales in this industry for several years.
Debra earned her Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology degree from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and she is a member of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). She is certified in infection control and epidemiology (CBIC) and has maintained this certification for twenty years