Left: Clostridium difficile, courtesy of Kenyon College Biology Dept. website
(Toledo, OH) The Ohio Department of Health announced it will begin requiring health care providers and long-term residential facilities to report cases of Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C-diff.
The bacterium can cause severe diarrhea, colitis and in some cases death. The bacterium also produces spores that can live in dirt or on surfaces for as long as two years, and which can survive normal disinfectants.
C-diff has been blamed for as many as 21 deaths in Cleveland-area hospitals in 2005, and last year was identified as the cause of more than 100 deaths at a hospital in Quebec, Canada.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it believes a new, more aggressive strain of the bacterium is involved. The BI strain of C-diff also appears to have developed resistance to some of the antibiotics typically used to fight the microbe.
Jay Carey, director of public affairs for the Ohio Department of Health, said the new reporting requirements should give the state a better gauge of the prevalence of the microbe.
"We're hearing a lot of anecdotal information about increases in C-diff and the new strain," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't currently have a baseline to determine the extent of the problem."
C-diff is spread by direct person-to-person contact, and can be found on surfaces that people touch. Many people have the bacterium in their bodies without symptoms; C-diff becomes a problem when normal intestinal function is disrupted.
Carey said the most common method of contracting C-diff is through the use of antibiotics or during chemotherapy.
"Many drugs have a side effect of killing the healthy bacteria that normally populate the intestines," he said. "This allows C-diff the opportunity to grow unchecked and cause illness."
Most hospitals and long-term care facilities, according to Carey, are proactive in minimizing the risk of contracting C-diff.
"Infection control practitioners recognize the dangers associated with C-diff, and an awful lot is being done to protect people," he said. "The new reporting procedures will help us more quickly spot any problems before they become acute."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for reducing your risk of contracting C-diff:
• Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, or before touching food.
• While washing your hands, use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
• Use microbe-killing hand cleaner if warm water is not available.
• Never take antibiotics that have not been prescribed by your physician
• Seek medical treatment for diarrhea that lasts longer than 24 hours, or when it is accompanied with blood.
This article also appears in this week's Toledo Free Press.