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Potentially deadly infection doubled among hospital patients over last 5 years

The number of hospital patients stricken by an infection that can lead to diarrhea, blood poisoning, and even death increased by 200 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The sharp upturn follows a 74 percent increase in the number of cases between 1993 and 2000.

The infection—Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile-associated disease—occurs after previous antibiotic therapy suppresses the normal bacteria of the colon. This allows growth of C. difficile following exposure by unwashed hands or infected surfaces such as bedpans, toilet seats, or floors. Symptoms can range from mild diarrhea to severe, life-threatening illness that, in its most severe form, can be treated only by completely removing the colon.

AHRQ's analysis also found:

  • There were over 2 million cases of C. difficile in U.S. hospitals between 1993 and 2005.
  • Two out of three infected hospital patients in 2005 were elderly.
  • On average, patients with C. difficile were hospitalized almost three times longer than uninfected patients. The in-hospital death rate for patients with C. difficile was 9.5 percent compared with 2.1 percent overall.
  • The highest rate of C. difficile infection in hospital patients was in the Northeast (144 stays per 100,000 population) and the lowest (67 stays per 100,000 population) was in the West.

This summary is based on data in Clostridium difficile-associated Disease in U.S. Hospitals, 1993-2005, HCUP Statistical Brief #50 ( The report uses statistics from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a database of hospital inpatient stays that is nationally representative of inpatient stays in all short-term, nonfederal hospitals. The data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the United States and include all patients, regardless of insurance type, as well as the uninsured.

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