C. diff Infection Rate May Overtake MRSA

Study Shows More Cases of Clostridium difficile in Community Hospitals Than MRSA

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010 -- A new superbug may be sneaking up on hospitals already struggling to lower infections from another, more well-known antibiotic-resistant bacterium.

A new study shows rates of infection from the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) are now surpassing those associated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections in community hospitals.

Researchers found that while MRSA infection rates are decreasing thanks to stepped-up prevention efforts within hospitals, infections caused by C. difficile have increased each year since 2007.

C. difficile, also known as C. diff, is a multidrug-resistant bacterium that most often causes diarrhea; in severe cases the infection can cause a potentially deadly inflammation of the colon. Two antibiotics are now available to treat the infection, and relapses are common during treatment.

"This is not a nuisance disease," says researcher Daniel Sexton, MD, director of the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network (DICON), in a news release. "A small percentage of patients with C. difficile may die, despite treatment. Also, it is likely that the routine use of alcohol-containing hand cleansers to prevent infections from MRSA does not simultaneously prevent infections due to C. difficile."

Until recently, C. diff infection was primarily found only among the elderly and seriously ill. But a recent report shows the number of C. diff infections among children has nearly doubled in recent years.

In this study, presented this week at the Fifth Decennial International Conference on Healthcare-Associated Infections in Atlanta, researchers analyzed infection rates in 28 community hospitals located in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia during 2008-2009.

During the two-year period, rates of C. diff infection were 25% higher than those associated with MRSA (847 cases vs. 680 cases).

"Most people continue to think of MRSA as the big, bad superbug. Based on our data, we can see that this thinking, along with prevention methods, will need to change," says researcher Becky A. Miller, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, in the news release."The key is to develop prevention methods aimed at C. difficile while still maintaining the success we have had with MRSA."