It’s become a sad fact that many people being treated in health-care facilities end up catching a bad -- and potentially deadly -- bug in the very place where they’re supposed to get better.
A report on the increased incidence of clostridium difficile infections in hospitals and other health-care settings issued Tuesday by the CDC finds that “the incidence, deaths, and excess health-care costs resulting from CDIs in hospitalized patients are all at historic highs.” The estimated number of deaths attributed to infection with C. difficile rose from 3,000 deaths per year during 1999-2000 to 14,000 deaths per year during 2006-2007. The report attributes much of that increase to the emergence of a highly virulent, drug-resistant strain of C. difficile bacteria.
C. difficile bacteria, which can cause debilitating diarrhea and potentially lethal inflammation of the bowel, are spread through feces. Use of antibiotics fosters C. difficile infection by reducing the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut that can battle these bad bacteria.
While 44 percent of those infected were younger than 65, more than 90 percent of those who died from C. difficile infection were 65 or older. Only 25 percent of infections originated in hospitals.
The report emphasizes the need for health-care facilities in a given region to coordinate efforts to combat C. difficile, as infection often takes place in one facility -- a nursing home, for instance -- but manifests itself two or three days later, perhaps when the patient has moved to a hospital.
Measures to keep C. difficile infection in check include judicious use of antibiotics and efforts to prevent transmission of the bacteria that cause it. One of the best ways to do that is for health-care workers to be diligent about wearing gloves and changing them between patients; it’s believed that many cases of C. difficile infection occur when a health-care provider handles an infected patient and then moves on to work with an as-yet-uninfected patient.
Thorough cleaning of surfaces with an agent specifically designated as effective against C. difficile is also essential, the report says, as many strains are resistant to commonly used disinfectants.
On a bright note, the report found that health-care communities that had employed measures to limit C. difficile infection managed to reduce the incidence of such infections by 20 percent.