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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Deadly NHS bug 'continues rising'
image of clostridium
C difficile rates have been on the rise
More hospital patients in England are getting the deadly Clostridium difficile bug, figures show.

Health Protection Agency (HPA) data showed 55,681 cases were reported among over 65s in 2006 - up 8% in a year.

MRSA cases continued their downward trend, but they are not falling quickly enough to meet next year's target.

The HPA said C. difficile rates were "very high" and the Patients Association called for more to be done to protect patients from bugs.

C. difficile is a bacterium found in the gut of up to 3% of healthy adults and 66% of infants, although it rarely causes problems
Certain antibiotics can disturb the normal balance, allowing the bug to thrive and causing severe diarrhoea and in some cases severe inflammation of the bowel which can be life threatening
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, but is shorthand for any strain of Staphylococcus bacteria which is resistant to one or more conventional antibiotics.
MRSA infections can cause a broad range of symptoms depending on the part of the body that is infected

Patients Association spokeswoman Katherine Murphy said: "Too many people are dying from these infections. We must learn from other countries such as Holland which have got infection rates close to zero.

"That is what we should be aiming for. We need to make NHS chief executives more accountable and ring-fence infection control budgets as it is to easy to raid them when there are cuts."

She also said all patients should be screened - at the moment only those at highest risk are routinely tested as they enter hospital.

In November 2004, then health secretary John Reid pledged MRSA rates would be halved by April 2008.

But government memo, sent to ministers by a Department of Health official last year, predicted it would only be cut by a third by then.

The same memo said C. difficile, a stomach bug which can cause potentially life-threatening bowel inflammation problems, was now "endemic throughout the health service, with virtually all trusts reporting cases".


Ministers have asked NHS trusts to set their own targets to reduce C. difficile rates.

The latest figures confirm the problems - although the rate of increase in C. difficile is slowing.

From 2004 to 2005, there was a 17% rise compared to the 8% being reported last year.

There were 1,542 MRSA bloodstream infections from October to December 2006 - 7% down on the previous quarter.

The HPA does not look at deaths although figures from 2004 show that MRSA was mentioned on over 1,000 death certificates in England and Wales, while C difficile was listed on over 2,000.

Dr Mark Enright, an expert on infections from Imperial College London, said: "C. difficile has hit the NHS out of nowhere and we are still getting our head around dealing with it."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The government has badly let down NHS staff and the patients they care for."

And Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said "tougher action was needed".

But the Department of Health said "progress" was being made, although more work was needed.

A spokesman added: "Patients deserve to be treated in a safe clean environment and have the highest standards of care every time."

The dangers posed by C. difficile

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