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A new government report indicates that every year there are about a half million individuals infected by Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, with the majority of those infections acquired in hospitals and doctor’s offices nationwide.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the findings of a new study on February 25, warning that rates of hospital-acquired c. diff infections continue to increase at a disturbing rate. Older patients and those who take antibiotics were at the highest risk of c. diff infections.
C. diff is the most common hospital-acquired infection in the U.S., striking particularly hard at patients ages 65 and older. The infections can cause fatal cases of colon inflammation and diarrhea.
“C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press release. “These infections can be prevented by improving antibiotic prescribing and by improving infection controls in the health care system. CDC homes to ramp up prevention of this deadly infection by supporting State Antibiotic Resistance Prevention Programs in all 50 states.”
Only about 150,000 of the nearly half a million patients diagnosed with c. diff infections each year were exposed to the infection outside of the hospital setting.
The CDC estimates that about 29,000 patients died within 30 days of the initial c. diff diagnosis, and about 15,000 of those deaths were directly attributable to hospital-acquired c. diff. More than 80% of those deaths occurred in patients 65 or older.
Antibiotic Overuse Concerns
The agency blames the rise of C. diff infections, in part, on antibiotic misuse and poor infection control procedures.
“More than half of all hospitalized patients will get an antibiotic at some point during their hospital stay, but studies have shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or incorrect,” the CDC reports. “When a person takes broad-spectrum antibiotics, beneficial bacteria that are normally present in the human gut and protect against infection can be suppressed for several weeks to months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread person to person.”
The CDC has developed new guides to help doctors better determine when to use antibiotics. They include a list called the Core Elements of Hospital Antibiotics Stewardship Programs as well as a antibiotics use checklist.
The CDC had declared that preventing C. diff infections is a national priority.
In a study published in October in the American Journal of Infection Control, researchers from Texas came to similar conclusions, determining the increase in C. diff hospital infections over the past decade is linked to overuse of antibiotics, which has been cited as a growing health concern in the U.S.
Patients acquire C. Diff when micro-organisms grow out of control, thus releasing toxins that attack the lining of the digestive tract. Normally, human intestines have as many as 1,000 microorganisms living in them, the majority are harmless, sometimes even helpful. However, when antibiotics are introduced, this can often turn the microorganisms toxic.
C. diff is typically treated with antibiotics, but in some cases patients will require surgery to remove the infected portion of the intestines.
CDC officials say reducing use of antibiotics by at least 30% could potentially lower C. Diff rates by 26%..
A study published in 2013 revealed many hospitals fail to undertake simple sanitary measure that could prevent the spread of C. diff.
The 2013 Clostridium difficult infection Pace of Progress survey found only 21% of facilities implemented infection prevention staff and 61% had antimicrobial stewardship programs in place.