Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 10, pp 1633-1640

First online:

Limiting the spread of highly resistant hospital-acquired microorganisms via critical care transfers: a simulation study

  • Umanka H. KarkadaAffiliated withSchool of Information, University of Michigan
  • , Lada A. AdamicAffiliated withSchool of Information, University of MichiganCenter for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan
  • , Jeremy M. KahnAffiliated withDepartment of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
  • , Theodore J. IwashynaAffiliated withDepartment of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, University of Michigan Medical School Email author 

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Hospital-acquired infections with highly resistant organisms are an important problem among critically ill patients. Control of these organisms has largely focused within individual hospitals. We examine the extent to which transfers of critically ill patients could be a vector for the wide spread of highly resistant organisms, and compare the efficiency of different approaches to targeting infection control resources.


We analyzed the network of interhospital transfers of intensive care unit patients in 2005 US Medicare data and 2004–2006 Pennsylvania all-payer data. We simulated the spread of highly resistant hospital-acquired infections by randomly choosing a single hospital to develop a highly resistant organism and following the spread of infection or colonization throughout the network under varying strategies of infection control and varying levels of infectivity.


Critical care transfers could spread a highly resistant organism between any two US hospitals in a median of 3 years. Hospitals varied substantially in their importance to limiting potential spread. Targeting resources to a small subset of hospitals on the basis of their position in the transfer network was 16 times more efficient than distributing infection control resources uniformly. Within any set of targeted hospitals, the best strategy for infection control heavily concentrated resources at a few particularly important hospitals, regardless of level of infectivity.


Critical care transfers provide a plausible vector for widespread dissemination of highly resistant hospital-acquired microorganisms. Infection control efforts can be made more efficient by selectively targeting hospitals most important for transmission.


Hospital-acquired infections Patient transfers Networks Antimicrobial resistance Medicare Critical care