C. diff becoming more common, more deadly. Elderly at most risk of death.

January 12, 2013 | by Ralph Zanfardino, MPAS, BSJ, PA-C

Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can cause life-threatening diarrhea and colon inflammation. It is most commonly contracted by the elderly and those that have been hospitalized or on antibiotics. Over the past several years, this illness has become much more common, life-threatening and at the forefront of medical community concerns.

According to the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, researchers in 13 Dutch hospitals included all of their hospitalized Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) patients in a study done from 2006 to 2009. Hospitals individually matched each CDI patient to two patients without CDI based on which unit in which they stayed and the length of CDI hospitalization. 1,366 patients with CDI were included in the study comprising 1.33 of every 1,000 admitted patients.

Death rate in the CDI patients was 13 percent after 30 days. Over one in three of the CDI patients died after one year. The highest death rate was seen among elderly patients and patients with a certain strain of the bacterium, PCR ribotype 027. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of becoming infected with C. difficile is 10 times higher for people aged 65 and older compared with younger people.

CDI patients were compared to patients without diarrhea and patients with diarrhea. There was a 30-day higher death risk in the CDI patients of 5.4 percent and 8.6 percent respectively. CDI patients had a 2.5 fold increased 30-day death rate compared to controls without diarrhea when adjusted for age, sex and underlying diseases. CDI-related death occurred most often within 30 days of diagnosis.

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