C. difficile-associated disease on the rise

C. difficile–associated disease on the rise

A newly recognized strain of a bacterium found mostly in hospitals is causing more illness.

The day after she started taking an antibiotic for a respiratory problem, 69-year-old Ellen Cornwall (not her real name) developed diarrhea. At first, she wasn't worried; antibiotics are known to upset the gut. But this was no ordinary upset. A few days later, she was admitted to a hospital suffering from round-the-clock diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and bloating, dehydration, and declining kidney function. She was too weak to stand. Tests showed that her white blood cell count had skyrocketed and her colon (large intestine) was inflamed. The cause? The common bacterium Clostridium difficile, also called C. difficile (or just "C diff"). Had she gone much longer without medical attention, Ellen might have needed emergency surgery to remove her colon — a procedure with a mortality rate in such cases as high as 50%.

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