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C Diff Infections Are No Longer Limited to Hospitals

C diff infections causing diarrhea were once found mainly in health care facilities. Now they are causing trouble out in the community.
C Diff Infections Are No Longer Limited to Hospitals
Clostridium difficile bacteria, 3D illustration. Spore-forming bacteria that cause pseudomembraneous colitis and are associated with nosocomial antibiotic resistance

C diff infections, caused by bacteria known as Clostridium difficile, were once thought to be limited to hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. Such infections can cause severe, occasionally life-threatening diarrhea.

What Do You Know About C Diff?

The bacterium was discovered as part of the normal intestinal flora in 1935. Shortly after that, doctors found that some patients developed serious diarrhea in reaction to antibiotic treatment. It wasn’t until 1974 that scientists identified C diff overgrowth as the culprit in such cases.

Clostridium bacteria can make spores that resist disinfection, making it a persistent problem in nursing homes and hospitals. Anything that moves from room to room, such as a wheelchair, can contribute to its spread (American Journal of Infection Control, online Nov. 21, 2018). Now, however, C diff is causing trouble everywhere.

C Diff Infections in the Community:

The CDC counted approximately 350,000 C diff infections in 2011. Nearly half of them had no connection to hospitals, and more than one third were not preceded by antibiotic use. In 2017, California researchers found that ten percent of emergency room patients with diarrhea had C diff.

Researchers speculate that changes in digestive microbiota may be making us more susceptible to this opportunistic infection. Presumably, it might be possible to reverse these changes with a diet full of fiber-rich vegetables and beans. That would mean eating less processed food.

Treating C Diff Infections:

The usual treatment of C diff is with antibiotics. However, when it recurs, doctors are turning more frequently to fecal matter transplants (Frontiers in Microbiology, Nov. 2, 2018). This procedure allows for the re-establishment of a healthy microbial balance in the large intestine. To learn more about this procedure, you may wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Michael Bretthauer, President of the Frontier Science Foundation in Brookline, MA. It is Show 1144: New Ways to Heal Your Digestive Tract, scheduled for broadcast 12/1/18.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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