Antibiotics aim to treat or prevent infections. In hospitals, though, the use of antibiotics is contributing to a distressing number of infections. The culprit is often Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a bacterium that normally lives quietly in the human digestive tract, reports the June issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.
Although C. diff is only a small player in the ever-shifting microbial community in the human gut, it has become a leading cause of infectious diarrhea in the United States. Antibiotics are largely to blame. When they are taken to kill off harmful microbes, they often cause collateral damage—destroying bacteria that are neutral or helpful to the body. This creates a void that is often filled by C. diff, especially in hospitalized patients, many of whom are already weakened and ill-prepared to withstand the stress of diarrhea and fever.
C. diff infection is preventable if doctors and hospitals take it seriously, assures Harvard Men's Health Watch. Doctors must use antibiotics wisely and prescribe them only when they are necessary. They should choose the simplest, most narrowly focused antibiotic that will do the job, and stop treatment as soon as the infection has been controlled. Prevention also includes prompt diagnosis of C. diff infection so control measures can take effect before it spreads to others in the hospital.
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