People go to hospitals to be treated and to nursing homes to be cared for. Patients assume that these sacred spaces are truly safe ones. But far too often, dangerous bacterial spores that can live for months lurk on surfaces like light switches and food trays commonly touched by staff, patients and visitors.
The germ is called Clostridium difficile or C. diff for short. C. diff is found in the environment around us, but is spread in hospitals through fecal contamination. For example, someone who is infected could touch a faucet handle in the bathroom and leave spores there for others to touch, starting the spread of C. diff by mere touch. Failure to properly contain the spread of this infection through proper sanitary precautions could leave facilities vulnerable to medical malpractice claims from those who contract it.
Usually healthy bacteria in the body can counteract C. diff, but many patients in medical facilities are prescribed antibiotics or particular stomach medications that kill good bacteria in the digestive tract, allowing C. diff to flourish. Once the bug takes hold, it causes severe problems in the intestine and colon. Symptoms of a C. diff infection can include:
• High fever
• Unbearable pain
• Extreme swelling of the abdomen
• Distended colon
• High white blood cell count
• Difficulty breathing
• Toxic megacolon
USA Today recently published an article about an intense study it conducted regarding the prevalence of C. diff in hospitals settings. The findings show that actual infection rates are higher than federal statistics indicate and that medical providers and government regulators are not moving fast enough to see that protocols are followed that have been shown to work against the germ.
Hospitals are saying to fight C. diff effectively, they need more money and more staff.
Some of the blame apparently lies with the economic downturn, during which many facilities cut back on infection control and housekeeping. Reportedly the C. diff infection rate is soaring and at its highest ever. USA Today estimates that more than 30,000 C. diff deaths occurred out of 347,000 C. diff hospital admissions in 2010 alone.
Some of the things staff of hospitals and other medical settings like nursing homes could do to help stop C. diff:
- Better training
- Better tracking of patients taking the medications that allow C. diff to flourish in the intestine
- Better cleaning practices in patient rooms
- Isolation of infected patients
- Adequate surface disinfection protocols
If you or a loved one was harmed by a C. diff infection, talk to an attorney about the circumstances and whether any potential legal remedies may be available.