Clostridium difficile is an infection that spreads quickly and can be fatal. While usually diagnosed amongst hospital patients, it is now being diagnosed amongst nursing home residents and patients at primary care practices and other outpatient facilities.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that the number of infections and deaths from the bacterial illness have significantly increased over the past several years. This could lead to more nursing home neglect or medical malpractice lawsuits, especially if health care professionals could have prevented the transmission of the infection.
The infection is spread through physical contact. To prevent transmitting the infection from one patient to another, the CDC strongly recommends that doctors always use gloves and a gown when treating patients who have the infection and even if they only suspect that a patient may have the bacterial illness. One medical professional recommends that doctors should also consider testing patients for the infection if they complain of chronic diarrhea, which is a common symptom of the infection. After treating patients, doctors should make sure that exam rooms are thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant that is approved to kill the bacteria. Treating another patient without sanitizing an exam room could result in the transmission of the bacteria to another patient.
In 2010, 94 percent of the C. diff infections reported were contracted after patients sought medical care. Of those that contracted the infection after receiving treatment, about 75 percent were nursing home patients or patients who were in a clinic or an outpatient doctor’s office. Only 25 percent of the reported cases were from patients who had been treated at hospitals.
Part of the reason that the infection spreads so easily is because doctors tend to over-prescribe antibiotics, according to a spokesperson from the CDC. The spokesperson estimates that 50 percent of the antibiotics that doctors prescribe are not necessary to effectively treat patients. Additionally, C. diff cannot be killed by most hand sanitizers.
According to a recent study, in 2000, there were nearly 140,000 patients who were hospitalized withC. diff and by 2009, the number of hospitalizations from the infection were more than 336,000. The infection kills about 14,000 people in the U.S. each year. Over 90 percent of the deaths reported each year from the infection include people over the age of 65.
Source: American Medical News, “C. diff causes concern in primary care, other outpatient settings,” Christine S. Moyer, March 19, 2012