Hospital Acquired Infections: C. Difficile, a New Growing Epidemic

During the recent past (2003 to 2006), C. Difficile has been more frequent, more severe, more resistant to standard therapy, and those who do contract C. Difficile, are more like to get it again.

What is C. Difficile?
It is a bacterium in your intestine that causes diarrhea, and could often cause more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis, sepsis and even death.

What Causes C. Difficile?
C. difficile colitis is associated with the prolonged use of antibiotics. This type of C. difficile is the most common infection acquired by patients while they are in the hospital. According to an article published in, more than three million C. difficile infections occur in hospitals in the United States each year. After a stay of only two days in a hospital, 10% of patients will develop infection with C. difficile.

What are the symptoms of C. Difficile?
Those patients who have a mild form of C. difficile may have a low-grade fever, mild diarrhea (5-10 watery stools per day) and mild abdominal cramping. Patients who have severe C. difficile may have a high fever (102° – 104°), severe diarrhea (more than 10 watery stools per day), loss of appetite, and severe abdominal pain and tenderness. Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Some of the less common, but life threatening complications of severe C. difficile colitis can be peritonitis and perforation of the colon.

How is C. difficile disease treated?
C. difficile is generally treated for 10 days with antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider. These drugs have proven to be effective and appear to have few side effects.

How is C. Difficile diagnosed?
The most widely used test for detecting C. difficile is a stool specimen. There are two different toxins, toxin A and toxin B, both capable of causing severe C. difficile. These toxins can be easily observed under the microscope. This tissue culture test is considered the gold standard because of its high sensitivity and specificity. Unfortunately, like most tests in medicine, these tests for toxins are not perfect; both false positive tests (finding toxins when there is no C. difficile) and false negative tests (not finding toxins when C. difficile is present) can occur.

The Pittsburgh law firm of Rosen Louik & Perry recently reached a settlement of $815,000 in a C. difficile case in Lawrence County. Unfortunately, the patient involved in this hospital acquired infection lawsuit died because her C. difficile went unreported to the doctor who ordered the test. A stool sample taken was reported to the hospital as positive for a bacterial infection. However, a nurse failed to report these findings to the physician who ordered the test. The size of the settlement was remarkable for Lawrence County given that it involved an elderly woman with a serious pre-existing condition.

If you or someone you know believes they have been the victim of medical malpractice or suffered from a hospital acquired infection, contact the Pittsburgh law firm Rosen Louik & Perry of law for a FREE consultation. We are a firm who have dedicated our careers to holding medical professionals responsible for their mistakes with the goal of improving the health care system.

Resource Links:
Annals of Internal Medicine
Center for Disease Control