Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 09:57 UK

Big drop in C. difficile figures

C diff
Most deaths from C difficile occur in the over 65s

Cases of the hospital bug Clostridium difficile fell significantly in the last three months, figures show.

There were 8,683 cases recorded in patients aged 65 years and over between April and June 2008 in England - an 18% drop on the previous quarter.

Compared with the same period last year the number of cases has fallen by 38%, the Health Protection Agency said.

Previous figures have shown rising deaths from C. difficile but this may be due to better reporting experts say.

C. difficile is a bacterium found in the gut and in healthy adults and children it rarely causes problems.

If numbers continue to drop in this way in future we are well on our way to seeing outbreaks of this unpleasant infection become fewer and fewer
Professor Mike Catchpole, HPA

But people over the age of 65 years are more susceptible to contracting infection, particularly if they on antibiotics which disrupt the "normal" bacteria in the gut.

Symptoms range from mild diarrhoea to severe inflammation of the bowel which can occasionally be fatal.

Early signs

Professor Mike Catchpole, director of the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said the falling rates of C. difficile cases were "reassuring".

But he added it was too soon to say whether the falls could be sustained as they had been with MRSA.

"If numbers continue to drop in this way in future we are well on our way to seeing outbreaks of this unpleasant infection become fewer and fewer.

"It is important to remember that not all healthcare-associated infections are preventable.

"The use of antibiotics in patients who are very sick can leave people susceptible to C. difficile which would normally be easily kept at bay in healthy people."

Maggie Kemmner, head of safety at the Healthcare Commission, said the figures were the first sign of progress against C. difficile but more sustained reductions were needed before success can be claimed.

"This is good news for patients and good news for the NHS.

"C. difficile has affected too many people in this country, and their families.

She said there were a number of other healthcare-associated infections which pose a risk to patients.

"Trusts must therefore never be complacent."

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said C. difficile rates were a challenge, but "tremendous progress" was being made.

But shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said the government had failed to tackle overcrowding in hospitals which had led to the spread of bugs such as C. difficile.

"There are still an appalling number of people catching hospital infections in this country - almost 60,000 last year.

"We'll never root out hospital infections without taking proper steps to stop them spreading."




SEE ALSO
Dramatic rise in C. diff deaths
28 Feb 08 |  Health

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