BACKGROUNDMultidrug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, (MRAB) is an important cause of hospital acquired infection. The purpose of this study is to determine the risk factors for MRAB in a city hospital patient population.METHODSThis study is a retrospective review of a city hospital epidemiology data base and includes 247 isolates of Acinetobacter baumannii (AB) from 164 patients. Multidrug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii was defined as resistance to more than three classes of antibiotics. Using the non-MRAB isolates as the control group, the risk factors for the acquisition of MRAB were determined.RESULTSOf the 247 AB isolates 72% (177) were multidrug resistant. Fifty-eight percent (143/247) of isolates were highly resistant (resistant to imipenem, amikacin, and ampicillin-sulbactam). Of the 37 patients who died with Acinetobacter colonization/infection, 32 (86%) patients had the organism recovered from the respiratory tract. The factors which were found to be significantly associated (p < or = 0.05) with multidrug resistance include the recovery of AB from multiple sites, mechanical ventilation, previous antibiotic exposure, and the presence of neurologic impairment. Multidrug resistant Acinetobacter was associated with significant mortality when compared with sensitive strains (p < or = 0.01). When surgical patients (N = 75) were considered separately, mechanical ventilation and multiple isolates remained the factors significantly associated with the development of multidrug resistant Acinetobacter. Among surgical patients 46/75 (61%) grew a multidrug resistant strain of AB and 37/75 (40%) were resistant to all commonly used antibiotics including aminoglycosides, cephalosporins, carbepenems, extended spectrum penicillins, and quinolones. Thirty-five percent of the surgical patients had AB cultured from multiple sites and 57% of the Acinetobacter isolates were associated with a co-infecting organism, usually a Staphylococcus or Pseudomonas. As in medical patients, the isolation of Acinetobacter from multiple sites and the need for mechanical ventilation were significantly associated with the development of MRAB.CONCLUSIONSThe factors significantly associated with MRAB in both the general patient population and surgical patients were mechanical ventilation and the recovery of Acinetobacter from multiple anatomic sites. Previous antibiotic use and neurologic impairment were significant factors in medical patients. Colonization or infection with MRAB is associated with increased mortality.