Recently, a local Chicago doctor working in a Veterans Affairs Hospital recognized signs of clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile, a contagious and potentially deadly bacteria that is difficult to track. The illness kills an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people annually with most of the cases occurring in health care settings.
The Chicago public health community has been sounding the alarm for years about the overuse of antibiotics and the emergence of “super-bug bacteria” that have developed an immunity to a wide number of antibiotics.
“One of the things that we consult consumers about is to make sure that an antibiotic is really necessary,” said Dr. Dale N. Gerding, an infectious disease specialist at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University in Chicago. “There are many good reasons for taking an antibiotic, but an illness like sinusitis or bronchitis winds up being treated with antibiotics even though it will go away by itself anyway.”
C. difficile is not a new illness, but it appears to be spreading at an alarming rate. The rate of C. difficile infection among hospital patients doubled from 2001 to 2005. The rise in C. difficile cases around the world is linked with the growing use of all the antibiotics, particularly a class of drugs called fluoroquinolones, which came into widespread use around 2001. The use of acid-suppressing drugs, including proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, also may be a risk factor.
In addition to becoming more common, C. difficile is also becoming more deadly. Some years ago the mortality rate from a C. difficile infection was around 1-2%. Today, some studies estimate that the death rate is up to 6%. The reason is that hypervirulent strains have emerged that puts out higher levels of toxins than earlier strains.
Many are familiar with the super-bug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which can cause a severe and potentially deadly skin infection. Most have started off primarily as a hospital based infections, but now are found commonly in communities.
Hospitals have become more motivated to control the spread of hospital acquired infections because of the reimbursement system for certain preventable hospital infections. Medicare and Medicaid have taken a stand on this issue by offering reimbursement in some cases.
In addition to the careful use of antibiotics, patients and hospital visitors should always be certain to wash hands and not sit on a patient’s hospital bed or use a patient’s restroom. The patient should always report severe diarrhea symptoms to a doctor, particular if they have taken antibiotics.
Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing Cook County medical malpractice and Illinois nursing malpractice, serving areas in and around Chicago, such as Hazel Crest, Naperville, Evanston, and Elk Grove Village.