Published on January 24, 2018

C. diff infections on the rise

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports the number of C. difficile infections nationwide continues to rise and is now at an all-time high. As hospitals are seeing more infected patients being admitted, officials at Nash UNC Health Care are taking steps to educate the public about this growing health concern.

Connie Clark, BSN, RN, CIC, Infection Prevention Manager with Nash UNC Health Care explains, “Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is a dangerous bacterium that causes severe inflammation of the colon, known as colitis. Until recently, C. difficile infections had been seen almost exclusively in healthcare facilities where patients are taking broad-spectrum antibiotics – hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, even at dental clinics. However, recent studies cited by the National Institutes of Health show an alarming increase in community-acquired C. diff cases, that is, the cases acquired before admission into a health care facility,”

Luke Heutz, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Coordinator, Pharmacy Services at Nash UNC Health Care, indicates this rise can be attributed to increased use of antibiotics. “With the overuse of antibiotics in prior decades, we’ve seen bacteria develop more resistance to antibiotics. Additionally, antibiotics can suppress or destroy the beneficial bacteria that are normally present in the human gut (intestines).  A compromised immune system resulting from antibiotics use, when combined with exposure to C. diff bacteria, can lead to a C. diff infection,” he explained.

“The trademark symptom of C. diff is watery diarrhea,” Clark said, “but it can also cause fever, nausea, stomach pain and cramping, and may lead to further problems, mostly relating to inflammation of the colon and other parts of the body - or even sepsis.”

“In many cases, the C. diff infection itself can easily be treated, but delaying treatment or complications can be lethal, especially for those over age 65. The CDC reports that nearly half a million people in this country last year had the infection and over 29,000 of them died within a month of being diagnosed,” she added.

Clark also warns that hand sanitizing gels with alcohol are not effective against this bacteria. Frequent washing of hands with soap and warm water, and keeping hands and fingers away from the face, especially nose and mouth, offer some protection

To help inform the public about C. difficile, the Community Outreach Program at Nash UNC Health Care will be offering a presentation on Tuesday evening, January 16, at 6 pm in the Nash General Hospital auditorium, free to the public. Call 962-8440 for more information.

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