Gut Reaction

Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of dividing C. diff bacterial cells (yellow). Old dead bacterial cells are pink.

At 480-bed Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, the physicians and staff seemingly are doing all the right things to foil one of hospital’s archenemies: Clostridium difficile. The bacteria, better known as C. diff, is responsible for a sharp rise in hospital-acquired infections over the past decade, rivaling even MRSA.

In 2010, Emory Midtown launched a campaign to boost awareness of the importance of hand washing before and after treating patients infected with C. diff and those likely to be infected. They also began using the polymerase-chain-reaction-based assay to detect the bacteria, a test with much higher sensitivity that helps to more efficiently identify those infected so control measures can be more prompt and targeted. They use a hypochlorite mixture to clean the rooms of those infected, which is considered a must. And a committee monitors the use of antibiotics to prevent overuse—often the scapegoat for the rise of the hard-to-kill bacteria.

Still, at Emory, the rate of C. diff is about the same as the national average, says hospitalist Ketino Kobaidze, MD, assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine and a member of the antimicrobial stewardship and infectious disease control committees at Midtown. While Dr. Kobaidze says her institution is doing a good job of trying to keep C. diff under control, she thinks hospitalists can do more.

“My feeling is that we are not as involved as we’re supposed to be,” she says. “I think we need to be a little bit more proactive, be involved in committees and research activities across the hospital.”

Clostridium difficile is going to be much harder to control than MRSA or other bacteria because it changes into a hard-to-kill dormant spore stage and then re-occurs at some point.

—Kevin Kavanagh, MD, founder, Health Watch USA

You Are Not Alone

The experience at Emory Midtown is far from unusual—healthcare facilities, and hospitalists, across the country have seen healthcare-related C. diff cases more than double since 2001 to between 400,000 and 500,000 a year, says Carolyn Gould, MD, a medical epidemiologist in the division of healthcare quality promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Hospitalists, whether they realize it or not, are intimately involved in how well the C. diff outbreak is controlled. Infectious-disease (ID) specialists say hospitalists are perfectly situated to make an impact in efforts to help curb the outbreak.

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