C. diff Infections Finally Decreasing; Thanks to Less Antibiotics and Better Cleaning
August 2, 2017
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infections Program shows that rates of C. difficile (C. diff), a potentially deadly infection, are on a steady decline. According to the information, this is thanks to fewer antibiotics being used when they shouldn’t be and better cleaning standards at nursing homes and hospitals, where the infection can often develop or be spread.
This is excellent and important news, because C. diff infections are not only extremely painful, they also cause severe diarrhea (10-15 times a day), which often leads to serious cases of dehydration. Other common symptoms can include the presence of blood or pus in the stool, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, severe abdominal cramping, pain and fever. All in all, the CDC estimates that C. diff infections claim the lives of nearly 30,000 people every year and get roughly 500,000 people sick.
C. diff infections are easily transmitted. People can get this type of infection in healthcare settings where patients often carry the deadly bacterium. In fact, researchers guess that sometimes up to 50% of patients have C. diff colonies on their skin, which can then easily transfer from patient-to-patient. Although some people don’t get sick at all from C. diff bacterium, if someone has recently taken antibiotics, they can be more susceptible to experiencing a dangerous overgrowth of the bacteria.
Doctors commonly treat C. diff infections with a course of antibiotics. The antibiotics fight the infection by slowing the growth of the dangerous bacterium; as a result, the potentially deadly symptoms, such as diarrhea and dehydration, can begin to resolve. Depending on the duration and severity of the infection, what antibiotic a doctor may prescribe varies.
The researchers behind the most recent study suggest that rates of C. diff infections have decreased anywhere from 9% to 15% overall. One reason for this is that some healthcare professionals have been inappropriately or unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics. When someone takes antibiotics that doesn’t need to, not only can the medication kill “good” bacteria in their body; it also greatly increases a person’s risk of becoming antibiotic resistant.
Hospitals and nursing homes have also been launching infection control protocols, which include rigorous cleaning practices that target killing deadly bacteria. Other helpful precautions that healthcare professionals are taking include doctors, nurses and technicians washing their hands each time they see a patient, and always noting if a patient is at higher risk for C. diff, such as if they have an infectious case of diarrhea.
New practices that target C. diff infections have helped patients in healthcare settings across the board. A recently published report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) showed that rates of diarrheal disease deaths had gone down in the last seven years as well. Diarrheal disease, a condition that can cause such severe dehydration that it leads to serious medical problems and death, is closely linked to C. diff infections.
Researchers are optimistic that as C. diff infection rates continue to drop along with diarrheal deaths, cases of E. coli and MRSA infections will follow in suit. This is thanks to healthcare professionals working hard to target these types of infections, and making sure they continue to practice better cleaning and caution in prescribing antibiotics for treatment.
Although this is good news for the medical community and hundreds of thousands of patients across the country, it is important that hospital and nursing-home based infections continue to be targeted. With antibiotic resistance an ever-looming issue that poses serious dangers, finding other ways to effectively fight against C. diff – and other deadly infections – needs to remain a priority.
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