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Nearly half a million Americans suffer from C. difficile infections in single year

Clostridium difficile caused almost half a million infections among patients in the United States in a single year, according to a new CDC study. C. difficile  causes inflammation of the colon and deadly diarrhea.

CDC’s new study of data from 2011 found that:

  • C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year.
  • An estimated 15,000 deaths are directly attributable to C. difficile infections, making it a substantial cause of infectious disease death in the United States.
  • Risk of C. difficile infection and death increases with age. Thousands of C. difficile infections develop among residents of U.S. nursing homes each year, and a majority of the deaths associated with C. difficile occur among Americans 65 or older.

Previous studies indicate that C. difficile has become the most common pathogen identified as the cause of healthcare-associated infections in U.S. hospitals and costs up to $4.8 billion each year in excess healthcare costs for acute care facilities alone. Taking antibiotics is the most important risk factor for developing C. difficile infections. These devastating infections can be avoided by improving antibiotic prescribing and infection control across our healthcare system. Unnecessary antibiotic use in patients at one facility can cause spread of C. difficile in another facility when patients transfer. To help hospitals develop antibiotic prescribing improvement programs (also called “antibiotic stewardship” programs), CDC has developed several tools, including a list of Core Elements of Hospital Antibiotic Stewardship Programs and an accompanying checklist.

Over the next five years, CDC’s efforts to combat C. difficile infections and antibiotic resistance under the National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) will enhance national capabilities for antibiotic stewardship, outbreak surveillance, and antibiotic resistance prevention. These efforts hold the potential to cut the incidence of C. difficile infections in half.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286
media@cdc.gov

Spokespersons

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

Biography

Photo: Dr Thomas Frieden

"C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year. These infections can be prevented by improving antibiotic prescribing and by improving infection control in the healthcare system. CDC hopes to ramp up prevention of this deadly infection by supporting State Antibiotic Resistance Prevention Programs in all 50 states."

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH - Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Michael Bell, MD

Michael Bell, MD

Biography

Michael Bell, MD

"This article tells us that we have work to do across the entire healthcare system and in the community. Just one breach in glove use, hand hygiene, or cleaning protocols can lead to spread. There is no room for error."

Michael Bell, MD - Deputy Director of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion

Clifford McDonald, MD

Clifford McDonald, MD

Clifford McDonald, MD

"Taking antibiotics is the most important risk factor for developing C. difficile infections. When a person takes antibiotics, beneficial bacteria that are normally present in the human gut and normally protect against infection can be altered or suppressed for several weeks to months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread person to person. Because patients are so frequently transferred, improved antibiotic use and infection control in one facility may reduce the spread of C. difficile in another facility."

Clifford McDonald, MD -Senior Advisor for Science and Integrity of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion

Fernanda Lessa, MD

Fernanda Lessa, MD

Fernanda Lessa, MD

"This data is from the largest, longitudinal, U.S. population-based surveillance for C. difficile infection to date and includes active laboratory case finding across diverse U.S. geographic locations."

Fernanda Lessa, MD -Medical Epidemiologist and lead author of report

Beth Bell, MD, MPH

Beth Bell, MD, MPH

Biography

Beth Bell, MD, MPH

"Detect and Protect strategies proposed for CDC in the President’s FY16 budget would speed up our nation’s ability to prevent the spread of this infection. State Antibiotic Resistance Prevention Programs would work with healthcare facilities in all 50 states to detect and prevent both C. difficile infections and antibiotic resistant bacteria. CDC could accelerate efforts to improve antibiotic stewardship across healthcare and in the community. These efforts hold the potential to cut the incidence of C. difficile infections in half."

Beth Bell, MD, MPH -Director, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC

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