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Study Finds C. Diff Hospital Infections Doubled in a Decade

female patient with doctorThe rate of Clostridium difficile or “C. diff” infections in U.S. hospitals doubled between 2001 and 2010, according to a recently published study. According to the study, C. diff infected hospital-bound patients at a rate of 4.5 per 1,000 in 2001; by 2010, that rate had climbed to 8.2 per 1000. The C. diff infection death rate likewise increased from 6.6% to 7.2%. The study also emphasized a connection between overuse of antibiotics and the rise of C. diff hospital infections.

Researchers responsible for the study, who were from The University of Texas College Of Pharmacy, published their findings in October in the American Journal of Infection Control. The study employed statistics collected as part of the U.S. National Hospital Discharge Surveys and encompassed information about 2.2 million adults (18 years of age or older). Patients’ hospital stays in connection with C. diff ranged from 4 to 14 days.

A rise of potentially deadly C. diff hospital infections

A C. diff infection is related to the uncontrolled growth of bacteria in the intestines, whose symptoms can include severe diarrhea, fever, nausea, appetite loss, and abdominal pain. The bacteria that causes the infection is found in the feces of the infected patient and can be spread from patient to patient through oral-fecal infection if the bacteria comes in contact with the mouth or mucous membranes.

Conscientious hand-washing and other hygiene measures are very important for hospital workers, lest they spread the infection to other patients. C. diff bacteria can also survive for long periods on surfaces such as toilets or bathtubs, so that disinfecting these and other surfaces is crucial to the halt of the infection.

Most patients who suffer from C. diff infections contract them in the hospital where, with other infections, they account for 14,000 deaths a year in the U.S. A study from 2013 found that many hospitals were remiss in conducting these simple practices in order to contain infection.

C. diff infections can be particularly deadly for the elderly; the AJIC study found that the majority of infected patients were white, female, and over 65. In 20% of patients who are treated, the infection can return and repeat infections can be debilitating for older, less vigorous adults.

C. Diff hospital infections linked to antibiotic overuse

The researchers responsible for the study blame antibiotic overuse for the rise of C. diff infections in U.S. hospitals. Antibiotics can not only target the infections that they were meant to treat, but also other organisms in the colon that protect against infections such as C. diff. Patients who receive repeated antibiotic prescriptions, such as some elderly patients, can be more vulnerable to C. diff infections.

Patients who contract a C. diff infection usually need to stop all other antibiotics if possible and be treated with an antibiotic that specifically treats the C. diff infection. Although antibiotics are the usual treatment, some patients may need surgery to recover.

Patients who suffer from repeat infections have been helped by “fecal transplants” (in which stool from a healthy person is placed in the colon of the patient). Long-term efficacy and safety information about this procedure is not yet available, however.