Deaths associated with C. difficile sharply underestimated

A new report indicates that C. difficile is linked in hospital records to more than 30,000 deaths a year in the United States.

That's about twice as many as federal US estimates and rivals the 32,000 killed in traffic accidents in the US.

USA Today reports that in March, the Centre for Disease Control indicated that the infection kills 14,000 people a year.

"But that estimate is based on death certificates, which often don't list the infection when patients die from complications, such as kidney failure. Hospital billing data collected by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that more than 9% of C. diff-related hospitalizations end in death — nearly five times the rate for other hospital stays. That adds up to more than 30,000 fatalities among the 347,000 C. diff hospitalizations in 2010."

OCHU successfully campaigned for public reporting of hospital acquired infections like C. difficile, but the Ontario government has simply refused OCHU's recommendation that the number of deaths associated with hospital acquired infections be reported as well. 

Without that data, it is impossible to tell the number of deaths in Ontario.  If it is proportionate to the US number on a population basis, the number of hospital deaths associated with C. difficile would be in the 1,250 range annually.

The newspaper also reports two other items that are likely relevant to the sharp increase in C. difficile in hospitals:

  •  "Hospitals have cut housekeeping budgets up to 25% in recent years, according to the Association for the Healthcare Environment, an arm of the American Hospital Association. And the group's surveys show that many hospitals spend as little as 18 minutes cleaning a patient's room. That's well below the 25-30 minutes the group's studies have identified as optimal."
  • In 2003, "the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates hospital disinfectants, learned that none of its approved products actually killed C. diff spores — though many claimed on their labels that they were effective against the bacteria. Five years passed, with C. diff rates skyrocketing, before the agency ordered manufacturers to remove the claims and began to identify new disinfectants that work."

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