New Diarrhea Danger for Children

Diarrhea-Causing Germ C. difficile Now Affecting Children

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on March 10, 2010

March 10, 2010 -- A dangerous diarrhea-causing germ once thought to only affect the elderly and seriously ill is now affecting a growing number of healthy children in the U.S.

A new report shows the rates of hospitalization for illness caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) in otherwise healthy children nearly doubled between 1997 and 2006.

Researchers found the number of C. difficile-related hospitalizations among children increased from 4,626 in 1997 to 8,417 in 2006, equivalent to a 9% increase each year.

“Children 1-4 years of age were as a group most likely to have a hospitalization that was [Clostridium difficile] related, and newborns were the least likely,” write researcher Marya D. Zilberberg, of the University of Massachusetts, and colleagues in Emerging Infectious Disease.

But researchers say the actual rate of C. difficile infection among newborns may be much higher because of current recommendations against testing newborns for the germ.

Diarrhea Danger Spreading

Clostridium difficile is a toxic strain of bacteria that can cause severe disease in massive outbreaks and has been associated with a growing number of hospitalizations and deaths in adults.

They say the increase in C. difficile infection among children is similar to that found among adults during the same period. But it is unclear whether the Clostridium difficile infection was present when the children were first admitted to the hospital or whether they developed the infection while hospitalized.

In any case, researchers say the pattern of C. difficile infection is changing rapidly, and a better understanding of how this germ affects children is urgently needed.