On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control revealed that a superbug called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, triggers over 450,000 infections a year nationwide and causes nearly 15,000 deaths. The bacterial infection, which is contained in feces, can be contracted by contact through hands or contaminated surfaces.
The huge majority of deaths, over 80 percent, attributable to C. diff are found in people 65 or older—most notably among the elderly ensconced in nursing homes, where they run a greater risk of infection. A study showed that one out of every nine patients 65 or older died within 30 days after being diagnosed with C. diff. Other factors enabling the superbug to advance are hospital stays and, even more significantly, long-term use of antibiotics.
The CDC showed concern for patients who stay long-term in hospitals and receive antibiotics that are unnecessary. Studies assert that over half of hospital patients receive antibiotics, and as many as 50 percent of the antibiotics are not required. The resultant over-prescription and the lack of infection control allow the superbug to spread when a patient is moved, according to the CDC.
A new strain of the bug appeared in 2000; it triggers 30 percent of cases. The CDC’s Dr. Cliff McDonald said, “It is more easily transmitted than other strains. It also does seem to cause more severe disease.”
C. diff incurs a cost of $4.8 billion each year in excess health care costs, the CDC said. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, “Antibiotics kill off beneficial bacteria in the gut which fight infection, leaving space for C. diff to come in and release its toxins… You can fight it with hand hygiene, early diagnosis, isolating sick patients and curtailing excessive antibiotic use.” He added that a thorough cleaning of surgical instruments would make a difference.