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C.diff: Another Good Reason To Wash Your Hands

Always wash with soap and water. Hand sanitizers aren't always effective.

While most healthcare-associated infections are on the decline, the Centers for Disease Control reports one remains at high levels. It’s called clostridiumdifficile. What most people refer to as C.difficile or C.diff causes an infectious diarrhea linked to 14,000 American deaths each year.

In this edition of Vital Signs, Dr. PranaviSreeramajou, Chief of Infection Prevention at Parkland Hospital, says awareness is key to fighting C.diff.

From Dr. Sreeramajou’s interview…

What is C.diff? “It’s a ubiquitous organism. It’s present in soil, water, everywhere. And it’s highly likely that we human being ingest c.difficile spores on a regular basis. Most of us remain unaffected. When they’re (people) are overexposed to antibiotics, and the gut microbial flora is disrupted, and their immune system is, maybe, weak, maybe they’re elderly, maybe they have multiple medical problems – and that’s when the bacteria starts producing toxins that cause inflammation of the colon, and that causes c.diffficle diarrhea."

It’s a problem for health care facilities: “About 250,000 people per year receive hospitalization because of c.difficile infection. Half of them have onset in the community – skilled nursing facility, long-term acute care facilities, facilities where there’s a concentration of elderly population who might be receiving antibiotics for other reasons – and then, a few proportion of patients have c.difficile infections and these people have never been exposed to antibiotics. That’s not well understood. There’s some parts of the pathway that we need to understand better as scientists."

The diarrhea can be quite bad, ranging from mild to serious: “And one to two percent of these patients with c.difficile infection can develop complications, such as an intestinal perforation."

How to prevent against C.diff: “Do not insist on antibiotic treatments. Most viral infections do not need antibacterial treatment. And when a doctor prescribes antibiotics, discuss the need for it. I wouldn’t say avoid processed foods altogether, but there is emerging concern that antibiotics use in the food industry can be contributing to the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food. Wash your food. And if someone has diarrhea at home, (pay) extra attention to personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently."

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control 

Web MD: Causes, symptoms and treatments 

U.S. Aims to Curb Peril of Antibiotic Resistance 

Misuse of antibiotics  

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.