The Scary C. Difficile Bacterial Infection Is More Common Than You Thought

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Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a deadly bacteria that may be found in your doctor's or dentist's office. According to the CDC, the potentially fatal bacteria is called C. difficile, and has typically been found in hospitals. That said, researchers believe thousands of patients have contracted the bacteria outside of hospital walls.

In a new study published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, CDC researchers revealed that nearly 500,000 Americans were affected by C. difficile in a single year. The study, which used data from 2011, concluded that more than 15,000 deaths can be directly attributed to the bacteria, causing concern for the health agency.

CDC officials say the bacteria can be incredibly serious, with thousands of patients dying within 30 days of a diagnosis. The bacteria reportedly causes inflammation of the colon and deadly diarrhea, and the risks increase with age.

"C. difficile infections cause immense suffering and death for thousands of Americans each year," CDC director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "These infections can be prevented by improving antibiotic prescribing and by improving infection control in the healthcare system."

What's more worrisome to CDC researchers is where a majority of these C. difficile cases have been contracted. Although the bacteria was typically associated with hospitals, the new study found that while nearly 66 percent of cases were linked to health care facilities, just 24 percent of those cases occurred as a result of hospitalization. That means nearly 345,400 of the 500,000 cases studied were attributed to community-set medical locations, such as dentist offices and outpatient medical facilities.

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Because of the newfound awareness of C. difficile outside hospital walls, the CDC is taking some unprecedented preventive measures. "This is really an important issue. We need to understand better how people are getting C. diff," Dr. Cliff McDonald, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC, told CNN.

CDC researchers concluded in the study that more intensive monitoring is needed to track both C. difficile and the "progress toward prevention." As many of the cases resulted from patients taking strong antibiotics in a single health care facility, the CDC plans to look into the methods of prescribing antibiotics. "In the absence of a vaccine, future efforts to prevent C. difficile will cross health care settings and focus more on appropriate antibiotic use," the researchers wrote in the study.

The agency has created a new resource for doctors, called the Core Elements of Hospital Antibiotic Stewardship Programs. Researchers also plan on combating C. difficile over the next five years under the new National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria program.

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