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If you don’t work in a hospital, chances are you’re not familiar with the term “C. diff.” It stands for Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that causes an intestinal infection along with severe diarrhea, colitis and even death. These days, patients who come into the hospital with this infection or contract it in the hospital are generally put in precaution rooms to prevent its spread to other patients. Health care workers in charge of these patients must take extra precautions as well.

The most recent numbers tell us that this approach is working. From 1993 to 2008, incidences of hospital stays involving C. difficile increased 300 percent. But between 2008 and 2009, the number of C. difficile infections in hospitals leveled off, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

There were 86,000 hospital stays involving C. difficile in 1993, increasing to 349,000 in 2008, but in 2009 there were about 337,000 stays.

Patients age 85 and older were at highest risk, with hospital stays at a rate of 1,089 per 100,000 people. This was more than double the next highest rate, for those age 65 to 84, at 465 stays per 100,000.

More than 9 percent of hospital stays with C. difficile ended in death, compared with less than 2 percent for all other hospital stays.

Patients with this condition spent an average of 13 days in the hospital, while the average hospital stay for others was less than 5 days. – AHRQ News and Numbers

C. difficile is a bacterium that’s normally present with no complications in the human intestine. However, when patients are given antibiotics, C. difficile, which is resistant to normal antibiotic routines, can take over and cause intestinal inflammation and bleeding. If the infection gets really severe, the only treatment is removing the colon.

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