By Katherine Hobson
We’ve written about the growing problem of Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that, like antibiotic-resistant staph, is posing a health threat in hospitals. One study found that C. diff is infecting more than 1 in 100 hospital inpatients.
And now we have a clearer picture of how C. diff is specifically affecting kids. Researchers report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that infection of hospitalized children by the bacterium increased by about 15% a year between 1997 and 2006.
C. diff normally lives in happy harmony with other gut bacteria and causes no ill effects. But that bacterial balance can be thrown off by things such as taking antibiotics to treat another problem. The study published online today can’t pinpoint the reasons for infection, but it finds that children with conditions requiring antibiotic treatment, as well as those with inflammatory bowel disease and suppressed immune systems, were more likely to be infected.
Kids infected by C. diff were more likely to die, to require a colectomy and to have a longer (and more expensive) hospital stay, the research found. However, the severity of infection didn’t increase over the years, suggesting either that in kids it’s becoming increasingly common without becoming more dangerous, or that there’s a time lag and the bacterium has become more dangerous since the study was completed.
The study couldn’t identify where the kids were infected — in the hospital or in the community — but it’s likely a mix of both, Cade Nylund, first author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, tells the Health Blog. And interestingly, kids with private insurance are more likely to be infected by C. diff than those on Medicaid, possibly because they’re more likely to get antibiotics for things like ear infections, says Nylund.
He says he’s interested in digging into the risk factors and seeing, for example, why black children are less likely to be infected by C. diff than whites but more likely to die from it. And, Nylund says, he’d like to look at which specific medications are associated with a higher risk of infection.
Photo of C. diff spores by Photo Researchers