According to a new study published in Nature Medicine, the burden of Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) infections in hospitals may be more related to patient characteristics rather than hospital transmission. C. diff is the most common bacterium that causes hospital-onset infections in the United States, resulting in nearly half a million infections annually.
The research, led by Evan Snitkin, Ph.D., Vincent Young, M.D., Ph.D., and Mary Hayden, M.D., analyzed daily fecal samples from every patient in the intensive care unit at Rush University Medical Center over a nine-month period. They found that only a little over 9% of the patients were colonized with C. diff. Upon analyzing the strains of C. diff, the researchers discovered that there was very little evidence of transmission from one patient to another within the hospital.
Instead, the study revealed that patients who were already colonized with C. diff were at a higher risk of developing an infection. The exact mechanism behind the transition from colonization to infection remains unknown. The researchers emphasize that infection prevention measures in hospitals, such as hand hygiene and routine environmental disinfection, are still crucial. However, additional steps need to be taken to identify patients who are colonized with C. diff and prevent infection in them.
C. diff is a bacterium that produces spores, which are highly resistant to environmental stresses and traditional disinfection methods. While approximately 5% of the general population carries C. diff in their gut, it rarely causes issues in healthy individuals. The researchers emphasize the need to prevent patients from developing infections by identifying triggers such as tube feedings, antibiotics, and proton pump inhibitors.
Moving forward, the study team plans to further explore the use of artificial intelligence models to predict patients at risk of C. diff infection, allowing for more targeted intervention strategies. Additionally, they suggest redirecting resources towards optimizing the use of antibiotics and identifying other triggers that lead to serious infections in patients colonized with C. diff and other healthcare pathogens.
Sources: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, Nature Medicine.