An intestinal infection caused by inappropriate use of antibiotics and poor infection control, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), has become the most common infection in U.S. hospitals, according to a new study. Nearly half a million infections occur annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “These infections can be prevented by improving antibiotic prescribing and by improving infection control in the health care system.”’
C. difficile produces inflammation of the colon and serious diarrhea. About 29,000 people die yearly within 30 days of getting C. difficile. More than 80 percent people who die from C. difficile infections are 65 years old or older.
Antibiotic use is the most common cause of developing C. difficile, The CDC notes that although more than half of patients will receive an antibiotic while in the hospital, only 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics are actually necessary – or even the correct antibiotic.
Antibiotics kill off the normal bacteria in the intestine, which makes patients more susceptible to C. difficile infection. C. difficile can also be spread to other facilities when patients who have the infection are transferred to another facility, such as a nursing home.
A new CDC study found that just a 30 percent decrease in antibiotic use in hospitals could lower C. difficile infections by more than 25 percent in hospitalized and in recently discharged patients.
Here are some more facts from the CDC regarding C. difficile:
- C. difficile costs as much as $4.8 billion annually in hospitals
- One out of every five patient with C. difficile has a recurrence of the infection
- One out of nine patients who are 65 or older with C. difficile die within 30 days of getting the infection.
- Nursing homes report more than 100,000 infections yearly.
- Groups most at risk of C. difficile are women and Caucasians
- About two-thirds of infections appear to be linked to an inpatient stay in a hospital or other health care facility, with about the same number of cases occurring in nursing homes as in hospitals.
The CDC has developed “antibiotic stewardship programs” to help hospitals improve antibiotic prescribing. The programs enlist all clinicians in hospitals to be aware of and follow prescribing protocols recommended by experts. Clinicians such as hospital epidemiologists, pharmacists, nurses, and quality improvement staff work together to make antibiotic prescribing more appropriate, based on guidelines from the CDC and infectious diseases organizations.
The CDC recommends that if you are a patient in a hospital or other health care facility, follow these steps to help prevent getting C. difficile:
- Make sure that all doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for you.
- If you do not see your providers cleaning their hands, please ask them to do so.
- Only take antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.
- Be sure to clean your own hands often, especially after using the bathroom and before eating.