Antibiotic Overuse, Spread of C. diff Infections a Deadly Combination

Nearly 500,000 individuals suffered from infection with Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, in 2011, according a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. About 29,000 died within 30 days of diagnosis, and 15,000 of the deaths were directly attributed to the C. diff infection. More than 80 percent of the patients who died were 65 years of age or older.

Health Care Associated Infections

C. diff causes inflammation of the colon and potentially fatal diarrhea. According to the CDC, previous studies have identified C. diff as the most common cause of health care-associated infections (HAI), and patients who are taking antibiotics are at the greatest risk. Many hospital inpatients receive antibiotics during their stay; the CDC notes that 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics prescriptions in hospitals are inappropriate.

About two-thirds of infections were associated with an inpatient stay in a health care facility, although only 24 percent occurred while the patient was hospitalized. Of the patients who acquired their infection in a health care facility, 20 percent suffered a recurrence. About 100,000 of these cases occurred among nursing home residents.


The CDC’s efforts at prevention focus on the reduction of antibiotic use in all health care settings. The agency has found that many patients who did not become infected during an inpatient stay, and are therefore considered to have “community-acquired” infection, actually had contact with the health care system through outpatient care or otherwise.