While most health care related infections are declining, the health care infections caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile, also known as (C. Difficile, or C. Diff), remain very high, and cause 14,000 deaths annually.
The people most at risk are senior adults who are in a health care facility and taking antibiotics. Death can occur with even mild to moderate C. difficile infections that are not treated promptly.
What is C. Difficile?
C. Difficile, is a bacteria and it is one of the worst offenders in attacking the gastrointestinal tract. Under normal circumstances, the intestines contain millions of bacteria which help to protect it from infection. Most antibiotics kill many of the healthy bacteria in the intestine. This lack of healthy intestinal bacteria, then allows C. Difficle to grow unchecked, producing toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. These toxins produce inflammatory cells that attack the intestinal colon wall and cause watery diarrhea.
Why is C. Difficile so prevalent in health care facilities?
In a health care setting you have all the circumstances for a perfect storm which consists of:
- A place where germs spread easily
- Common use of antibiotics use is common
- And these facilities are full of sick people who are especially vulnerable, due to compromised immune systems caused by infection, illness, and stress
C. difficile is a bacteria that is passed in the feces by human carriers who have not performed proper hand washing. The infected person spreads the bacteria to food, other people, or facility objects such as bedrails, bedside tables, toilets, sinks, stethoscopes, thermometers, and even the telephones, remote controls and elevator buttons. If you touch a surface contaminated with C. difficile, you may unknowingly eventually swallow the bacteria.
C. difficle bacteria produce spores that can live on a surface for weeks and months. And disinfecting with alcohol and alcohol-based sanitizers will not kill the spores.
Once treated, can you get the infection again?
After having a previous C. difficile infection, studies indicate up to 20 percent of people will get sick again, because the initial infection never went away, or because they are re-infected with a different strain of the bacteria. After one or more recurrence, rates of further C. difficle infections increase by up to 65%.
What is the best prevention for minimizing your risk of getting C. difficle?
Hand-washing, hand-washing and hand-washing is the best preventive measure. Health care workers should wash their hands properly with soap and running water, and dry hands with disposable paper towels, before and after treating each person in their care. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not effectively destroy C. difficle spores. If you are visiting a family member in a health care facility, wash your hands before and after contact with your loved one.
Remember that every surface that has been touched by a carrier or infected person, increases your risk of getting C. difficile, or of passing it to your loved one in the health care setting. All surfaces in the health care setting should be properly disinfected with a product that contains chlorine bleach as C. difficile spores can survive other routine cleaning products. This cleaning should include the telephone, television remote control, and even elevator buttons, if there is one.
Receive treatment at home whenever possible!
If you are elderly, and have an infection that requires antibiotic treatment, but does not require hospitalization, stay at home. Home care services can send a nurse to assess and manage symptoms, under the orders of a physician without the risk of exposure to the “superbugs and C. difficile” in the healthcare facilities.
A non-medical home care agency, like AA Care Services, can send caregivers to assist the senior while he/she is convalescing. The caregiver can assist with personal care; assist with mobility, walking, meal preparation, and light housekeeping. Once you are feeling better and back to good health, the home care services can end.
And remember to wash your hands with soap and water. This is one of the most effective measures in preventing infections in yourself or from spreading them to others.
Next week, I will discuss signs and symptoms of C. Difficile infection, or colitis, and some of the most current innovative treatments.
Want to find out more?
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Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.