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Clostridium difficile may join MRSA at the top of the list

Micrograph of Clostridium difficile bacteria from a stool culture.
Micrograph of Clostridium difficile bacteria from a stool culture.
Photo: CDC/Lois S. Wiggs, 2004

Many hospital patients and their families in the Tuscaloosa and West Alabama area are familiar with the “superbug” Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also know as MRSA.  Yet before long, another emerging superbug may rival MRSA for attention.  Clostridium difficile, also known as “C. diff,” is rapidly becoming very well known.  In many community hospitals and medical centers in the Southeastern United States, C. diff may have already surpassed MRSA as the most common hospital acquired infection.

Clostridium difficile is very common in the gastrointestinal tract and is one of many different bacterial species that make up the “normal flora.”  In other words, they belong there.  In normal situations, all of the bacteria living together keep each other in check, and no one organism takes over.  The majority of C. diff disease occurs after antibiotic therapy.  Unfortunately, much of the normal flora may be killed, allowing C. diff to flourish.  The overgrowth can result in diarrhea as well as a much more serious condition known as colitis.  As has become typical of bacteria taking up residence in healthcare facilities, C. diff has become resistant to some antibiotics and may be difficult to treat.

C. diff is spread through contact, yet it has an advantage organisms like MRSA do not.  C. diff can produce spores, more or less a dormant form that will allow it to survive on hard surfaces for days, weeks or even months.  The spores are typically resistant to alcohol based hand cleaners as well as the majority of household cleaning products.  Consequently, measures that work to control MRSA are not as effective with C. diff and the organism may be spread.

However, there are a number of measures that may be taken to help curb this infection.  Appropriate and judicious use of antibiotics is always called for.  Follow your healthcare provider’s instruction completely.  Hand washing according to protocol, gown/glove use whenever required and thorough room cleaning, especially with sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solutions will go a long way toward slowing or stopping the spread.  These methods have been used locally and regionally with promising results.

For additional information, please visit one of the following:

Clostridium difficile

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Preventing C. diff infection

Online Textbook of Bacteriology 

Visit the Birmingham Health Technology Examiner for additional articles on infectious disease and health technology.


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