By Kate Merrill, WBZ-TVBy Kate Merrill

DENNIS (CBS) – Three months after having knee replacement surgery, Kathleen Powers of Dennis is finally feeling well enough to do something as simple as make herself a cup of tea.

Her slow recovery has nothing to do with her knee. An infection she picked up either in the hospital or in the rehab facility ravaged her digestive system. “You feel like all of your life’s energy is being sucked out of you,” she said.

Tests confirmed Kathleen had C-Diff which is short for Clostridium Difficile. It’s a bacterium that attacks your intestines.

WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill reports.

“You feel like you’re not going to get better and you feel like you’re dying,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, C-Diff kills thousands of people every year and that number is growing.

“It’s between three and six-fold more common than it was just ten years ago,” explained Dr. Rocco Riccardi of Lahey Clinic.

Antibiotics are the standard treatment, but that doesn’t always work. “In that situation, one can get very, very sick and have to have their colon removed,” Riccardi said.

Both Dr. Riccardi and the CDC blame a new strain of the bacteria for the increased cases of the bug.

“This epidemic strain is much more aggressive and it produces more toxins or stronger toxins and it’s harder to treat,” Riccardi said.

C-diff is highly contagious and is spread through contaminated stool, usually by health care workers who don’t wash properly. What makes this bug particularly tricky is those alcohol-based hand sanitizers often used in hospitals don’t work on C-Diff. Doctors and nurses need to wash with soap and water before and after they visit a patient’s room. The microscopic spores can also survive for weeks on hard surfaces like a counter, a phone or a handrail.

Kathleen believes hospitals need to do more to educate and protect their patients. “You don’t think you’re going to go in (to the hospital) and come out with something deadly,” she said.

“I just want people to be aware that this C-Diff is out there and it’s devastating,” she said.

Certain antibiotics can actually increase a patient’s risk of developing C-Diff. Often doctors will prescribe an antibiotic to prevent a skin infection during surgery. But sometimes that antibiotic wipes out all the good bacteria in the patient’s gut and that clears the way for C-Diff to take over.

If you are having surgery, you should talk to your doctor about your risks. Older patients and those with certain pre-existing conditions also have a higher chance of getting C-Diff. The only other way to protect yourself is to make sure your care give keeps their hands clean or wears gloves.

Kate Merrill

Comments (184)
  1. Peggy says:

    Just and FYI people. It seems there may be a link between the overuse of proton pump inhibitors that may be contributing to a rise in these infections as well and fractures. Your immune system is in your gut. These drugs change the gut flora and may be contributing to these super bacterial infections taking hold. Please do some research. These drugs for reflux are being prescribed for long term use and they were never approved for that.

  2. nocfos says:

    C. diff is a naturally occurring bacteria that EVERYONE has in their intestines. It becomes a problem when antibiotics kill off the good intestinal bacteria that keep c. diff in check. Severe infections are more common now than they were 10 or 20 years ago because of the increased amounts of preventative and growth enhancing antibiotics that are fed to animals which are processed for food. Rather than limit the what types of antibiotics can be fed to farmed animals and when they can be used, the solution to this problem will be to sell everyone MORE high-priced antibiotics to treat the c. diff. But hey, that’s the essence of capitalism, right? Create a need, and then fill it.

  3. sheila smith says:

    I too had an operation in 2008 and contracted c-diff. . after a year and a half of being on antibiotics, i looked into having a fecal transplant. i had this done by an amazing woman doctor in R.I. a year and a half ago and walked out free from c-diff.. Probiotics did nothing for me. if anyone wants the name of the doctor i will be happy to provide. At that time no doctor in Mass was doing this. IT WORKS

  4. Ruth Carrico says:

    As a board certified infection preventionist, I frequently work with healthcare facilities on methods to control C. difficile transmission and outbreaks. Creating and maintaining a hygienic environment is everyone’s responsibility. This means that everyone from hospital staff to patients must be involved. Patients should be enabled to practice good hand hygiene and know that it is within their rights to remind personnel to do so as well. Healthcare personnel must be ready and able to implement preventive activities as part of routine practice.

    Facilities should consider how they incorporate disinfection practices that address C. difficile in the healthcare environment. If facilities intend to use a 1:10 hypochlorite (bleach solution) as their routine environmental cleaning and disinfection process for all rooms when C. diff is present, or when an outbreak has been identified, they should have clear processes in place to ensure that actual practice aligns with expected practice.

    C. difficile infection is certainly not new, but its capability to cause severe illness has changed. Care processes must be designed so early recognition, attention to environmental cleanliness, hand hygiene, and adherence with isolation precautions are all part of usual practice.

  5. Debbi says:

    Almost one year ago, my Mom had knee replacement and ended up contracting C-Diff. I am still amazed on how nonchallant the staff at the hospital was about this disease..Even after Mom was diagnosed, most of our information had to be found by our own research. The hospital staff and the doctors need to take more of an effort to educate people on this deadly disease..They also need to make sure they are always up to date with the most current breakthroughs and information on C Diff. I get angry when I think about Florida Hospital Flagler, and its laid back staff…See, my Mom was not one of the lucky ones…she passed away due to this infection. I will always remember the time the nurse changed her soiled bedding and placed the chucks folded up into the regular room trash can…One would think it should go into the Hazardous Waste can?? I can only hope the hospitals will take a stand and develop a NO TOLERANCE policy towards care givers being anything less than 100% efficient in the cleaning and handling of admitted patients..This just may cut down the risk of spreading this killer infection!!

  6. Barb says:

    Our 87 year old mother was admitted to one of the world’s best hospitals in Boston with an infection in her toe. Within 48 hrs. she had contracted a staph infection and treated with IV antibiotics for 5 days. She was then transferred to a rehab with 5 days of oral antibiotics. (All the while complaining of diarrhea) The day after the antibiotics were stopped she became ill with a fever, chills and severe diarrhea. The rehab told us it was a stomach virus that needed to run its course. Within 48 hrs. she was transferred back to this prominent hospital for follow-up care. After 16 hrs. in the ER it was determined that she had contracted C-Diff and they started her on more antibiotics. Four hours later we were notified that they were losing her. She had an immediate ileoscopy/colonoscopy at 9am this morning. She went to this prominent hospital for an infected toe and will leave with a life-changing tragedy. While her family is thankful that she has pulled through thus far we are confused, frustrated and very angry. More media attention is needed about C-Diff. We don’t want to see more families go through this nightmare. If you or a loved one is facing a hospital stay please, please direct ANY person that is caring for you to wash their hands before the enter your room.

  7. ev says:

    My husband died from C-Diff at Harbor U.C.L.A. Medical Hospital exactly 3 months after being diagnosed with Cancer. It wasn’t the cancer that killed him, it was the C-diff infection he contracted while being treated at the hospital. Even after he was infected with c-diff he was never put in isolation. He was put in a couple of I.C.U. rooms with at least 6 beds with patients, visitors and hospital staff going in and out, and at times the hospital staff would not wear protective garments. I even complained a few days before his death, because one nurse was moving him around in his bed with no gloves on, only her bare hands. On his death certificate they put Septic Shock as cause of death.



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  10. gs says:

    I contracted C. difficile when hospitalized for a mastectomy two years ago. It only came to light a year later, however, when an endodontist prescribed clindamycin for me, following repair of a failed root canal. When I developed a full-blown pseudomembranous colitis and C. difficile was confirmed by culture, I was given metronidazole (Flagyl), but after a brief period of relief, had a recurrence. (I was also placed on the BRAT diet [bananas, rice, applesauce, toast], and remained on it for >6 months.) I was next given vancomycin (at $2,000 per course) and, shortly thereafter, the C. difficile recurred again. (It should be noted that the only drugs effective against C. difficile [metronidazole, vancomycin, fidaxomicin] have an extremely high failure rate compared to that of most drugs.) After a second course of vancomycin, I was referred to a gastroenterologist who did another culture, discovered I was still producing toxins, and prescribed a third course of vancomycin, as well as instructing me on sanitizing my entire house with a 25% Clorox solution, telling me to take Align daily (I had been taking a different probiotic since the onset of my C. difficile) and instructing me to eat Activia yogurt daily (I had been doing that since the outset anyway, but upped my intake). I found that our local small-town family doctors knew virtually nothing about C. difficile, about its treatment, about appropriate diet, or about prevention of its spread. They could not advise me as to what foods to eat and which to avoid (avoid sugar, alcohol, fat, all dairy and most wheat products, as well as most vegetables/fruits [anything high in fiber]). In our local small-town clinic, soap/water handwashing has been supplanted by hand sanitizer (a dispenser is now mounted on the wall of each examination room). Whenever I visit the clinic, I request that my physician wash his hands with soap and water. I am also preparing a draft for a possible patient hand-out I intend to suggest that will instruct patients on sanitizing (wipe everything you touch with 25% bleach solution [light switches, banisters, door frames, keyboards, phones, remote controls, etc.] and do it frequently; wipe down the toilet lid/seat every time you use it), diet (no sugar, no fat, no alcohol, no fiber), proper laundry habits (bleach all towels, bedding, and underwear; do the patient’s laundry separately from that of other family members, and never mix such items as dishtowels and underwear), etc. Recently I had to have oral surgery (the same tooth that started this whole mess) and take a 10-day course of antibiotics, but the oral surgeon consulted with my gastroenterologist about which antibiotics to avoid, and thus far (that was six weeks ago) I haven’t had a recurrence of the C. difficile. I was greatly relieved to read the comments made by others concerning the extreme fatigue they felt after their struggle with C. difficile. I was so weak and without energy (for a very long time) that I had become severely depressed, thinking this was likely to be a permanent state. However, it is now almost a year since my initial illness, and I am beginning to recover some of my old pep and energy. The C. difficile organism’s most virulent new mutation is present in my state (and 37 others) and people are dying of it, yet physicians and hospitals here seem virtually unaware of the disorder. At one point, I became so frustrated with my family care physician that I asked him, “Have you never seen a case of C. difficile before?” “Yes,” he answered, “but never anything like this.” Yet I believe my case was likely quite typical. I have read of case after case (anecdotal reports) that began with the prescription of clindamycin. I truly question whether this drug should even be on the market in light of the “explosion” of C. difficile cases following its use — but dentists seem to love it. “It’s a good dental drug,” my dentist told me. I am resigned to a life of sanitizing as a normal, routine practice, to eating yogurt several times a day, to keeping my hands away from my mouth, and to constant, never-ending handwashing. I am grateful I’m still alive. The C. difficile suffered by the physician father of my urologist paralleled mine in virtually every aspect, and he didn’t make it. I understand hospitals wanting to “keep a lid on the problem” so as not to frighten patients away, but isn’t it time, in light of the many deaths occurring, that we admitted to having the problem and instruct/warn the public of the danger? Institutional secrecy will only amplify the problem.

  11. MAMAMAMA says:

    I am a CNA in indiana and i was doing research in this because i had heard that a few of the residents have this. i try so hard to keep good hand hygiene and to wear a gown i was told by some just wear gloves, a gown and a mask wont matter well i will admit i had gone in to someones room with out gloves on she only wanted the nurse to give her pain meds so idk on that one but after reading this and a few comments i am going to make sure that i wear my gown, glove and masked and make sure that i wash my hands with the special soap they have before i move on to the next resident. sometimes i dont hae time to wash my hands because some of the nurses i work for can be real b!!ches if i dont move fast enough and they say i need to get down to so and so’s room ASAP and i am half afraid i will get wrote up for taking to long to clean some one up. i am definatly going to make sure i wash my before and after work and in between residents and after taking out the garbage and if i get wrote up for taking to long to clean someone up i will just have to tell my boss i got out of so and so’s room and i wanted my hands clean to protect myself and the next person but mostly myself (as selfish as that sounds but if i get sick then they are understaffed and that puts more stress on the CNA’s and nurses and the other residents suffer)

    1. MAMAMAMA says:

      the persons room i went in to had CDiff or some thing that lasted for 14 days on a surface.

  12. PFH says:

    So I have experienced C-Diff and a recurrence. I had Difficid which is quite expensive and it seems much better. I am taking mega pro biotics – The doc wants to do another colonoscopy and I am petrified of losing the good bacteria and letting c-diff take over again…. I will have have to be convinced that taking any risk is worth it …..

  13. GG says:

    Is there anyone gping through vanco thereapy that can tell me how they are doing on a daily basis now. Today is Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012.

  14. GG says:

    Anyone have any experienxe with prolonged vanco treatment? Today’s date is Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

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