Hospitals don't do enough to stop C. diff spread

Even as the White House has unveiled an aggressive, $1.2 billion plan to fight antibiotic-resistant infections, a new study suggests that U.S. hospitals don't do enough to prevent one particularly dangerous superbug from harming patients.

In the study, published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, researchers asked infection control leaders at U.S. hospitals about the measures they take to prevent Clostridium difficile infections. C. diff infections, caused by a group of bacteria that resist the most common antibiotics, can lead to ruptured colons, perforated bowels, kidney failure and death. Incidents have been on the rise, according to a 2014 study, a danger exacerbated by shortages of certain antibiotics.

Most hospitals involved in the study reported that they follow key measures to prevent the spread of C. diff, such as screening for infections and disinfecting surfaces. However, researchers found that nearly half of the hospitals had insufficient antibiotic stewardship programs. Previous research has indicated that patients who have contact with other patients treated with antibiotics are more likely to contract C. diff, providing clear evidence that "ward-level antibiotic use should be subject to surveillance by infection control and stewardship personnel," according to FierceHealthcare.

Antibiotic stewardship also is a key component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's goal to cut C. diff infections by half, a benchmark endorsed by the Obama administration, whose plan to fight superbugs calls for reduced antibiotic use in patients and in agriculture, FierceHealthcare has reported.

The most recent C. diff study, however, illustrates how difficult it can be to institute such a culture change in medicine, Sanjay Saint, M.D., the lead author of the study, said in a study announcement. "The doctors who prescribe most of these antibiotics, and who would have to buy in to stewardship programs, are hospitalists," he said. "Nationally, they're the ones we must engage with to overcome this disconnect between what people think works and what they're actually doing, and to implement stewardship programs. This is about changing physician behavior and that makes it more challenging."

To learn more:
- check out the study (subscription required)
- here's the announcement

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