Many people seek medical attention when they have diarrhea, usually when it is severe or is not improving. Doctors like myself ask questions to see what could be causing the problem: Food poisoning? Irritable bowel syndrome? Medication side effects? We also consider that diarrhea may be due to Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI).
What is C. diff infection?
CDI is a bacterial infection that can cause severe problems in the gastrointestinal tract, especially the colon. C. diff is responsible for almost half a million infections in the US each year, and it can be a recurring problem: one in six patients with this infection will get it again within two months. Sadly, one in 11 patients over age 65 who is hospitalized for CDI will die within one month of infection due to the severity of illness in CDI. Therefore, CDI is an important public health consideration, and it’s important to get treatment.
Who is at risk for C. diff infection?
There are certain risk factors for developing a CDI. These include being hospitalized, having been exposed to antibiotics, or having close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the infection. If you are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system), you may be also at higher risk of contracting CDI or of suffering a complication from it.
A major focus of reducing the burden of CDI in the healthcare system is trying to reduce the risk of getting CDI in the hospital. This includes testing for CDI in hospitalized patients who develop new diarrhea and then isolating those patients into their own rooms.
Prevention also includes washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This is a particularly important point because in healthcare settings, alcohol-based sanitizer often is used for convenience when clinicians practice preventive infection control between caring for patients. Alcohol-based sanitizer is not effective against CDI as it is for other types of infection because, unlike other bacteria, C. diff organisms can form resistant spores.
So, to protect yourself in health care settings, you should make sure the people who interact with you — doctors, nurses, medical assistants, etc. — have washed their hands prior to touching you. It can seem rude to ask someone if they have washed their hands. However, all people who work with patients receive training about hand-washing, and sometimes we simply forget in the middle of busy days, so it can be helpful to remind us.
What about CDI transmission outside of medical settings?
What is less understood is when CDI happens outside the hospital. A recent article in Emerging Infectious Diseases reported the presence of CDI in patients who became infected in a way that doctors tend not to think of as often: getting CDI from someone they know without ever being hospitalized or taking antibiotics themselves.
As physicians, we are drilled on the factors previously mentioned — prior use of antibiotics, and previous hospitalization — as critical events that may cause CDI. What this research demonstrated is that people without these risk factors developed CDI by being exposed to someone with CDI in the community. It turns out that this is a common way people end up contracting CDI. During my training, we learned that it is important to remind patients newly diagnosed with CDI to be mindful of good hand hygiene and to avoid as many contacts as possible until their CDI treatments were completed. This new research suggests that focusing on community CDI transmission should be a greater priority.
How is CDI treated?
The first round of CDI treatment is usually antibiotics (ironic, since antibiotics can cause CDI). These include metronidazole, vancomycin (in oral form only), and fidaxomicin. Every few years guidelines are reviewed and updated, but generally, different antibiotic treatment courses are given based on CDI illness severity, whether there is an infection that is failing to clear, or if a new antibiotic needs to be tried.
A promising way to treat CDI, particularly in patients who have not been helped by antibiotic therapy, is to give a fecal microbiota transplant or FMT. This treatment involves taking a healthy person’s stool donation and administering it during an endoscopy procedure by mouth, during a colonoscopy, or in frozen form by pill. I know — taking someone else’s poop sounds so icky! However, the purpose is to introduce healthy bacteria into a gut that is sick with CDI, and the theory is that these healthy bacteria expand and make the environment harder for the C. diff bacteria to live and cause problems.
What precautions help prevent the spread of CDI?
The rules are simple for reducing your risk of CDI. If you have a weakened immune system, stay away from people who have been diagnosed with CDI. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (not disinfectant) to deal with C. diff spores more effectively. When you are sick, take antibiotics only if they are necessary; doctors often feel pressured to write antibiotic prescriptions for people who have viral illnesses (for which antibiotics do not work).
Evidence is not strong for taking probiotics or eating yogurt to prevent CDI, but these approaches are low-risk ways to introduce healthy bacteria into your gut; this may be reasonable, in part because some in the medical field continue to debate their effectiveness.
There is no such thing as a small stroke…
Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a significant cause of disability. Learn from Harvard Medical School experts how to understand your odds of having a stroke, evidence-based steps that can lower your risk, how to recognize the early signs of a stroke, and what to do to get rapid, brain-saving treatment.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? (Genesis 18:24) And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26)
And be sure to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, “I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” (Genesis 32:20)
to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. (Genesis 50:17)
“Forgive my sin, just this once, and plead with the Lord your God to take away this death from me.” (Exodus 10:17)
Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. (Exodus 23:21)
Moses Intercedes for Israel The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” (Exodus 32:30) So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. (Exodus 32:31) But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” (Exodus 32:32)
The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)
And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.” (Exodus 34:9)
just as he does with the bull offered as a sin offering for the high priest. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20) Then he must burn all the goat’s fat on the altar, just as he does with the peace offering. Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the Lord, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)
Then he must remove all the goat’s fat, just as he does with the fat of the peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar, and it will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31) Then he must remove all the sheep’s fat, just as he does with the fat of a sheep presented as a peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar on top of the special gifts presented to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people from their sin, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35)
The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed. Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:10) Through this process, the priest will purify those who are guilty of any of these sins, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the flour will belong to the priest, just as with the grain offering.” (Leviticus 5:13)
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