Warnings about the consequences of overuse of antibiotics have been circulating for years. Now it seems we’ve finally reached a tipping point, at least when it comes to one particularly scary infection: C. diff or Clostridium difficile.
C.diff is an intestinal infection that occurs most frequently in people who are taking (or recently taken) antibiotics.
According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, C. diff infections increased by 40 percent between 2001 and 2012. Even more concerning was the rise in “multiply recurrent” C. diff infections: nearly a 200 percent increase. Multiply recurrent infections come back within eight weeks during the same time period.
How C. diff can attack the body
To understand the disease you need to know how antibiotics affect the body. Antibiotics help destroy dangerous bacteria in the body. However, they also affect the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. When someone takes antibiotics and wipes out those good bacteria, C. diff bacteria have an opportunity to take over the intestines. This can cause severe cramping, pain and diarrhea.
Each year, 500,000 Americans get infected with C. diff, plus another 29,000 die of complications related to the infection.
Many C. diff infections occur in hospitals because of the frequent use of antibiotics. This leads to the potential for the bacteria to spread from patient to patient.
Luckily there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from C. diff:
First, avoid frequent use of antibiotics. Many doctors now prescribe antibiotics as a broad, preventative measure rather than a targeted treatment. If you don’t truly need antibiotics, then they can do a lot more harm than good. Talk to your doctor to determine alternate treatment routes or to receive a targeted antibiotic prescription .
In addition, if you’re at the hospital, then don’t be shy about advocating for cleanliness in your space and from your healthcare providers. Ask everyone who enters your room to wash their hands and use gloves. Also bring your own bleach wipes to sanitize surfaces Bleach is one of the only cleaning agent that affects C. diff bacteria.
If you have the chance to make a decision about what hospital you’ll be going to, then check out Consumer Reports’ list of the hospitals with the worst infection rates and steer clear if possible.