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Clostridium Difficile in Kids: The Extent of the Problem


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.

Bad Bug Bonus: Health Blog Q&A: Superbug Author on Protecting your Kid from MRSA

Photo of C. diff spores by Photo Researchers

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    • Thanks a great deal for the weblog. Will read on…

    • My son was diagnosed with strep and the pediatrician prescribed suprax. I questioned him as to why he is giving my son suprax but he convinced me that the drug of choice is suprax. 10 days later my son got C Diff. I blame only myself for trusting this pediatrician. Its 100% his fault. They take a oath sayin do no harm but he caused C diff in my son. Now we are paying the price for his dumbness and ignorance.

    • Guess who are among those most responsible for the spread of this infectious bacterium, just like MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph, particularly in hospitals. It’s the physicians! Many simply refuse to wash their hands before examining patients and then there are the white coats and ties they wear, which are carriers of infections. Ethic Soup as a good series on this, beginning with:

    • The article misses the point that cleanliness is the first line of defense against C. diff. Most patients, adults or children, do not enter the hospital with C. diff spores in their GI tract., unless they have been previously hospitalized. They ingest the spores by touching C. diff contamiinated surfaces, then touching their lips or pickingup food to eat wihtout cleaning their hands first. The two prong approach to reduce this risk is to clean surfaces around the patient’s bed thoroughly with bleach, and insist that patients clean their own hands before eating and avoiding putting utensils on any surface except their plate. Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D. Chairman, Comjmittee to Reduce Infection Deaths

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    Health Blog offers news and analysis on health and the business of health. The blog is written by Katherine Hobson and includes contributions from staffers at The Wall Street Journal, and Dow Jones Newswires. Write to us at

    Katherine Hobson has been writing about health and business for more than 15 years, including stints covering cancer, nutrition, exercise science, the U.S. economy and the U.K. beer industry.

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