The Clostridium difficile (or C. diff) bacterial strain was discovered in 1935 and first associated with disease in 1978.
Why Do We Hear More About C-diff Now?
C-diff has grown more dangerous in recent years, with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2004 reporting a new, more virulent strain with the ability to produce greater quantities of certain toxins. Recent studies have also cited cases in which C. diff bacteria were resistant to Flagyl, a common antibiotic.
How Do People Acquire C-diff?
The C. diff strain normally lives harmlessly in the human digestive system but can grow out of control when the body’s delicate bacterial balance is disrupted, such as when antibiotics that don’t kill C. diff wipe out its competition. Besides sickening the patient, the germ can spread outside the body through feces and live for a long time on objects and surfaces in hospitals, doctors’ offices and nursing homes.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the C. diff germ has been cultured from bed rails, floors, toilets and windowsills, and it can remain in hospital rooms for up to 40 days after infected patients have been discharged. Health-care workers can hasten the spread. One study found C. diff on the hands of almost 60 percent of doctors and nurses caring for infected patients — a percentage experts said could be reduced dramatically if they washed their hands thoroughly with soap and water between patients.
Hospitals Have Begun to Step Up Efforts to Fight C. diff.
A recent poll of 1,800 members of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology showed that 53 percent of respondents had adopted additional measures in the previous 18 months to prevent and control C. diff. More than eight in 10 respondents said their hospitals have hand hygiene programs, including unannounced observations. Nearly all said they always isolate C. diff patients and use gowns and gloves while caring for them. And 63 percent said they use both alcohol sanitizers and soap and water to keep their hands clean.
Poll of Hospitals Found Room for Improvement
While hospital cleaning programs have increased, the poll said, monitoring hasn’t kept pace. And patient education lags; only half of respondents said they educate patients about C. diff.
Hospitals are attacking the problem on many fronts: by isolating infected patients, not over-prescribing antibiotics for problems that would be appropriately treated in other ways, using the correct antibiotics to target particular germs and using special disinfecting solutions to clean patient rooms and other areas. They have also increased enforcement of standards for hand-washing and the use of gowns by healthcare workers; “safety coaches” observe their colleagues and remind them of the rules.
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