recent study of hospital-associated Clostridium difficile infections has shown that only 25% can be traced to contact with a symptomatic patient in one particular hospital system.
C. difficile is a spore-forming bacterial species associated with severe, sometimes fatal, diarrhea. It’s unclear how many healthy, asymptomatic adults carry C. diff in their colons, but in times of ill health, and especially after broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment, it can overgrow and cause disease.
The survey looked at recent diarrhea cases in England, the study. What the survey shows is that many costly prevention strategies used by hospitals may be ineffective because they are targeting the wrong contamination sources.
In the United Kingdom, where C. difficile reporting has been mandatory since 2007, its prevalence is an indicator of hospital quality, and hospitals with high rates are fined. However, many of the measures put in place to combat infections for the superbug are only dealing with 25% of the sources. These measures include hand washing and the isolation of infected patients.
Using genotyping the researchers showed that only a quarter of cases could be traced back to a known infected patient.
The research was published in:
A.S. Walker et al., “Characterisation of Clostridium difficile Hospital Ward–Based Transmission Using Extensive Epidemiological Data and Molecular Typing,” PLos Medicine,