C. difficile (Clostridium difficile) infections remain one of the most serious and common healthcare-associated infections (“HAI”). In recent years, efforts in the U.S. to address and reduce HAIs in hospitals have met with some success, except for C. difficile infections. One reason for the high level of C. difficile infections is that the people at the highest risk for C. difficile are those who are taking antibiotics and who are also receiving medical care, especially older patients in hospitals and in nursing homes. C. difficile causes diarrhea, can lead to sepsis, and is involved in 14,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
C. difficile is typically spread from contaminated surfaces or when health care providers fail to adequately wash their hands (the most dangerous source of C. difficile infections is patients who have diarrhea). Educational efforts directed toward hospital workers and nursing home workers that are focused on teaching and employing proper hand-washing techniques have helped reduce HAIs in those facilities but C. difficile infections remain at all-time high levels (C. difficile spores are not killed by alcohol-based hand sanitizers — bleach must be used to kill the spores).
The strain of C. difficile has gotten stronger over time and has resulted in increasing deaths (deaths from C. difficile increased by 400% from 2000 and 2007). More than 90% of C. difficile-related deaths occur in people who are 65 or older even though just under half of C. difficile infections occur in people under age 65.
Use of antibiotics substantially increases the risk of acquiring C. difficile because good (healthy) germs are destroyed along with the bad (unhealthy) germs that cause disease. The judicial use of antibiotics have been shown to reduce C. difficile infection rates (approximately 50% of all antibiotic use is unnecessary). Paradoxically, antibiotics are used to treat C. difficile infections.
Statistics show that symptoms of C. difficile infections are first observed in hospital settings in approximately 25% of the cases. In approximately 75% of the cases, the symptoms are first observed in nursing homes patients or in those who had been recently treated in their doctors’ offices or in medical clinics. Besides the deaths and medical complications caused by C. difficile infections, they are also responsible for more than $1 billion in additional health care costs in the U.S. each year.
The CDC recently published 6 steps for health care providers to help prevent the incidence of C. difficile:
1. Prescribe and use antibiotics carefully.
2. Test for C. difficile when patients have diarrhea while on antibiotics or within several months of taking them.
3. Isolate patients with C. difficile immediately.
4. Wear gloves and gowns when treating patients with C. difficile, even during short visits. Hand sanitizer does not kill C. difficile, and hand washing may not be sufficient.
5. Clean room surfaces with bleach or another EPA-approved, spore-killing disinfectant after a patient with C. difficile has been treated there.
6. When a patient transfers, notify the new facility if the patient has a C. difficile infection.
Statistics from 2007 indicate that the Northeast of the United States has the highest death rates due to C. difficile: Rhode Island has the highest rate in the U.S. for deaths from C. difficile (8.2 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Maine (5.5 deaths per 100,000 people). Maine experienced increased deaths from C. difficile beginning in 2006, following a Canadian outbreak of a more serious strain of C. difficile.
Improper hand-washing and other substandard infection control efforts in hospitals and nursing homes are associated with the increased risk of HAIs, including C. difficile. If you or a loved one acquired an infection such as C. difficile as a result of a stay in the hospital or a nursing home, you may be entitled to compensation if negligent care was the cause of your infection.
An investigation undertaken by a medical malpractice attorney may help determine if your infection was caused by negligent medical care.
Click here to visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be able to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate. You may also telephone us toll free at 800-295-3959.
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