Hospital Bug Deaths On The Rise

The number of deaths linked to a hospital bug called Clostridium difficile has outstripped those due to MRSA, latest figures show. Between 2001 and 2005 MRSA was mentioned on one in every 500 death certificates in England and Wales. For C. difficile it was one in every 250.

Between 2004 and 2005 deaths involving C. difficile increased by 69%, the Office for National Statistics found. At the same time MRSA on death certificates increased by 39%. This does not necessarily mean the superbug was the cause of death, but it does mean it was a contributing factor. Most of the deaths were in the older age groups.

C. difficile was mentioned on 3,807 death certificates in England and Wales in 2005, compared to 1,629 mentions of MRSA.

The ONS said greater awareness and high public profile of the disease may have contributed to an increase in the reporting of C. difficile on death certificates.

C. difficile is a bacterium found in the gut of up to 3% of healthy adults and 66% of infants, where it rarely causes problems. However, it can cause illness when its growth goes unchecked. For example, treatment with certain antibiotics can disturb the balance of “normal” bacteria in the gut, allowing C. difficile to thrive.

And efforts to combat MRSA, such as alcohol handrubs, have had no impact on C. difficile. C. difficile forms spores which means it can survive for long periods in the environment, such as on floors and around toilets, and spread in the air. Rigorous cleaning with warm water and detergent is the most effective means of removing spores from the contaminated environment and the hands of staff, say experts.