The following guest post on infection control and patient safety in healthcare was submitted by Evan Kaden.
Every year, patients are admitted to the hospital for various reasons. Some for surgery, others for acute or chronic illnesses, but all have the same expectation: to get well. Most are unaware of the risks that come with hospitalization and find themselves uneducated about them. C. Diff infection is no exception. While the doctors and nurses are required to inform you of an infection, that doesn’t mean that they have the time to explain the details of it. This article will explain what you and your family needs to know about C. Diff and how to prevent infection.
WHAT IS C. DIFF?
Clostridium Difficile, commonly known as C. Difficile or C. Diff, is the bacteria prominently known for causing infectious diarrhea. C. Difficile accounts for approximately less than 4% of the bacteria present in the intestinal tract. Everyone doesn’t have this bacterium in their system, but those who do typically have a healthy balance. In a healthy person, the bacteria do not pose a threat, but if there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in one’s body, that can spell big trouble. A C. Diff infection is known as a “Nosocomial Infection”. This type of infection is one that is acquired in a hospital setting, during a prolonged stay. There are various types of C. Diff but the most common strain is the North American Pulsed Field type 1, better NAP1, which can lead to serious illness.
HOW DO PATIENTS GET C. DIFF?
C.Diff is often found in patients who are in long term care and are receiving antibiotic treatment for long periods of time. It also occurs in patients who receive a high dose of antibiotics. While antibiotics are beneficial for treating various conditions, they also destroy the good bacteria. Without the proper balance, the C. Diff bacteria that was once tamed, now has the opportunity to go rampant. Elderly patients and those with compromised immunity are particularly at risk. Patients can also contract C. Diff through physical contact. The bacterium is passed through spores found in feces. These spores can live on surfaces for months. Health facilities risk an outbreak if soiled linens and contaminated surfaces are not properly sterilized. Healthcare workers contribute to this risk when good hand hygiene is not practiced. Other factors that increase risk are: Gastro Intestinal surgery, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Chemotherapy drugs, Renal disease, a weak immune system and a previous C. Diff infection.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
C. Diff symptoms include:
Watery Diarrhea (3-15 times per day)
Severe abdominal pain
C. Diff creates toxins that cause the colon to become damaged and inflamed. Different strains cause various levels of illness. NAP1, as mentioned before is the most common strain of C. Difficile bacteria. C. Difficle is diagnosed when a patient develops diarrhea during hospitalization, while on current antibiotic treatment or within two months of a past treatment. The physician will request a stool sample to confirm the presence of C.Difficile and to determine if it is a serious infection. Most cases are mild but with the right course of action can be treated efficiently and effectively.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
The first course of action is to discontinue the current antibiotic treatment. This method usually allows for the healthy bacteria to be replenished and eradicate the C. Diff overgrowth within a few days. The physician may order treatment using Metronidazole or Vancomycin. These drugs stop the growth of C.Difficile. Another form of treatment is Probiotics, which has been proven to prevent recurring infections. If the infection leads to more serious issues, surgery may be required to remove damaged portions of the colon. This is level of treatment is rare.
Most hospitals have implemented hand hygiene education and policies for the medical staff as well as protective equipment such as gloves and gowns for those who deliver direct care to the infected patient. There are signs posted on the doors and walls of patients who have C. Diff, but it can be confusing for the common person to understand. This list of precautions can save you and your family from contracting or spreading the infection:
1. Wash hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds frequently
(Most recommend singing the Alphabet or Happy Birthday song as a timer)
2. Ask the staff if the chairs and surfaces have been cleaned with Chlorine Bleach prior to entering the room.
3. Put on any protective gear that is placed at the entry of the patient’s room. This includes gowns and/or masks.
4. Avoid contact with the patient’s bedding. If the patient needs to be moved or cleaned, seek assistance from a nurse. Fecal matter isn’t always visible to the eye. If contact is made with the bed linens or surface, wash your hands right after.
5. Avoid using the patient’s restroom while visiting. C. Diff spores can live on surfaces for long periods of time. To avoid infection, use the visitor designated restrooms.
With rising concerns regarding C. Diff infections, it is easy to understand why patients may consider an alternative option. One of those options is CDPAP, Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program. This is a Medicaid program that allows the patient to receive home care and participate in his or her care plan. This alternative provides patients who have experience past C. Diff infections with a way to be treated in the environment where they feel the safest. With the proper knowledge and practices, we can work with the healthcare community to lessen the occurrence of C. Diff infections and ensure safe experiences for all patients.
Evan is a rare-breed of freelance writers who, believe it or not, doesn’t drink coffee! With a passion for sustainability and quality of life, he’s grateful for the opportunities he’s had to share his thoughts and stories with people through this crazy place called the internet.