C. Difficile Infection Tracked

December 11, 2012

Clostridium difficile has become one of the scarier hospital acquired infections as the bacteria has been developing antibiotic resistance since it appeared.

New research using different samples and evaluating the genetic changes has tracked how the infection spread. One strain started in the US and quickly spread to Europe, another (the harder to treat one) started in Canada and quickly spread to other countries. The lesson, the researchers say, is that antibiotic resistance is a global issue, and how each country handles outbreak will impact everyone.

The research may also be used to determine new C. diff treatments—evaluating which regions have antibiotic resistant strains, how those strains developed, and how C. diff treatment might be changed to prevent further antibiotic resistance.

C. diff symptoms are caused when the gut flora (your probiotics) are knocked out, and the C. diff bacteria takes hold, causing all manner of gastrointestinal problems: diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc. Generally, this happens when you are being treated for something else—your weaker, non-antibiotic resistant gut bacteria die out, and a C. diff infection takes hold (it can survive a long time outside of the body and is hard to kill with traditional cleaners).

C. diff treatment is a difficult balancing act, since, being antibiotic resistant, stronger antibiotics are needed to kill it, but that only worsens C. diff symptoms as good intestinal flora die out first. Generally, antibiotics are used only when C. diff may be life threatening (as in the elderly, or when the infection spreads in the body). Since many people have a C. diff infection with no symptoms, treatment is often forgone, although there’s some risk (that the infection may get worse, or that it may spread to someone who won’t be asymptomatic).

Eating a probiotic (any fermented food such as yogurt) can help support your GI tract as it battles a C. diff. infection—just make sure you aren’t taking it at the same time as any antibiotics your doctor may have prescribed. Probiotics may also be useful in preventing C. diff infection, as they support and replenish your natural gut flora, reducing the space available for C. diff bacteria.

If you don’t like fermented foods, or are having stomach troubles, consider a probiotic supplement instead.

How should hospitals prevent C. diff infection? Change antibiotic use? Institute more rigorous bleach-based cleaning? Go holistic and offer all patients yogurt daily?

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