Doctor AntibioticsSince at least the year 2000, C. difficile has been a growing problem—increasing its resistance to antibiotics and spreading not just around the US but the world.

Now we are fighting it on multiple fronts. A heavy hand is being used to encourage hospitals to reduce C. diff infections under their roofs—those who haven’t made progress by 2017 will begin to see penalties.

And the general public is being educated about C. difficile. It’s heavily antibiotic resistant, so the number one way to fight it is prevention.

Strategies at the hospital and at home are the same: increase hand washing (C. diff is spread through the fecal oral route—so, not washing after using the restroom, before eating, or just absent mindedly touching your face after spending time in crowded areas like airports), get more probiotics in the diet to crowd out C. diff, and use antibiotics responsibly (for children, being on probiotics is the biggest risk for developing an infection).

While many people guffaw at hand washing (especially since living in a germ free bubble isn’t ideal, either), we are on the edge of facing serious problems from antibiotic resistant superbugs, and hand washing is our best defense. In the winter, when there are several diseases that spread more easily, like the flu, hand washing at extra intervals throughout the day is important.

As a patient, you should also watch for your doctor to wash every time they enter the room—and not be afraid to speak up if they don’t. When hand washing is enforced in hospitals, it dramatically cuts the rates of hospital acquired infections!

And don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your doctor about antibiotics. Many are still in the habit of giving them to anyone and hoping that solves the problem. But many common illnesses, like sinus infections, aren’t caused by a bacteria. There are many that require patients to do the work of sleeping, eating, and supporting their immune system, because there’s no good treatment (and remember that masking symptoms doesn’t cure your or stop you from being contagious!).

For many people, they’re immune system is nice and hardy, and they may be infected with C. diff with no symptoms. But they could still spread it to others, who are at risk for severe complications like gastrointestinal inflammation (colitis), illness from the toxins it produces, and for those hospital patients with very weak immune systems, even death.

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing about the high risk we all face from superbugs, it’s super easy to follow the steps to prevention: hand washing, probiotics, and responsible antibiotic use (and of course, support yourself by supporting your immune system).

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