Study reveals Clostridium difficile spreads differently than hospitals thought

Although there is no evidence that Clostridium difficile--an increasingly virulent hospital-acquired infection--can be contracted by inhaling the bacteria, new research suggests that the germs don't just sit on contaminated surfaces, but can float through the air, landing on and contaminating surfaces without direct patient contact.

For hospitals, the discovery makes it crucial to isolate patients with diarrhea immediately and without waiting for tests to confirm a C. difficile infection, according to study's senior author, Dr. Mark H. Wilcox, a professor of medical microbiology at the University of Leeds in Great Britain.

Healthcare workers who touch contaminated feces can spread the disease by direct contact with other people or just by touching objects. The spores are resistant to disinfectants and can survive in open areas for months. Hospitalized people on antibiotics and the elderly, even when not taking medicine, are at high risk, notes the New York Times.

The British study, which measured the amounts of C. diff in the air around patients with confirmed infections, led researchers to believe that people's movements can stir up and help disperse spores. However, the amounts of C. diff in the air were generally modest, with the heavier contamination from direct contact, researchers said.

For most patients who are not immunocompromised, hospitals' current precautions should suffice, Dr. L. Clifford McDonald, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the newspaper, saying that the research supported the U.S. standard of putting patients in a single room. Wilcox agreed, stating that optimal hand hygiene was the best way to protect workers and patients from the superbug.

To learn more:
- read this article in The New York Times
- see the abstract in Clinical Infectious Diseases