Superbug Clostridium difficile is responsible for nearly 29,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Graphic: ABC News

26 February 2015
By Liz Neporent

(ABC News) – A stubborn, hard-to-treat “super bug” causes more than 450,000 infections a year and is directly responsible for nearly 15,000 deaths in the United States, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed today.

Clostridium difficile, or C. Diff, is a bacterial infection that leads to inflammation of the colon, the agency explained. The bacterium is found in feces, the agency said, and is spread by hand contact or contaminated surfaces.

"It’s the most common infection picked up in hospitals," said ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser. "The thing about this infection is you can pick it up and it can cause no problems. Then, you take an antibiotic and it takes over."

More than 80 percent of C. Diff deaths were people 65 or older, with residents of nursing homes especially vulnerable to infection, the report said.

“C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.

Hospital stays and especially long-term antibiotic use seem to up the risk of C. Diff infection.

“Antibiotics kill off beneficial bacteria in the gut which fight infection, leaving space for C. Diff to come in and release its toxins,” explained Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

Studies show that more than half of patients receive antibiotics at some point in their stay, and up to 50 percent of antibiotic use is unnecessary. Over-prescribing antibiotics, combined with poor infection control, may allow the spread of C. diff and other bacteria within a facility and to other facilities when a sick patient is transferred, the CDC report speculated.

The CDC report said preventing and controlling C. Diff should be a national priority. The infection costs up to $4.8 billion each year in excess health care costs, the agency reported. [more]

'Super Bug' Linked to Antibiotic Use Kills Nearly 15,000 Annually

RESULTS: A total of 15,461 cases of C. difficile infection were identified in the 10 geographic areas; 65.8% were health care–associated, but only 24.2% had onset during hospitalization. After adjustment for predictors of disease incidence, the estimated number of incident C. difficile infections in the United States was 453,000 (95% confidence interval [CI], 397,100 to 508,500). The incidence was estimated to be higher among females (rate ratio, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.25 to 1.27), whites (rate ratio, 1.72; 95% CI, 1.56 to 2.0), and persons 65 years of age or older (rate ratio, 8.65; 95% CI, 8.16 to 9.31). The estimated number of first recurrences of C. difficile infection was 83,000 (95% CI, 57,000 to 108,900), and the estimated number of deaths was 29,300 (95% CI, 16,500 to 42,100). The North American pulsed-field gel electrophoresis type 1 (NAP1) strain was more prevalent among health care–associated infections than among community-associated infections (30.7% vs. 18.8%, P<0.001)

Burden of Clostridium difficile Infection in the United States

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