C. Difficile Infections are common in Long Term Care Facilities and Hospitals
Adventures in Eldercare August 2012
Thank you to everyone for the tremendous feedback I received after my last article. Nothing touches the heartstrings like a story about a good old dog, I’ll keep you informed of Rocky’s progress, I promise. Today’s topic is definitely not so touchy feely (literally) but extremely important to discuss.
Once again in Ontario, a number of nursing and retirement homes have been closed to visitors due to recurring outbreaks of C. Difficile infections. If you are not familiar with this term you soon will be, it is an ongoing and growing problem and if you are elderly, frail or caring for such a person you should be on guard and concerned.
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that causes mild to severe diarrhea and intestinal conditions like inflammation of the colon.
If a susceptible person is exposed, C. difficile bacteria can grow in the intestinal tract. When this occurs, the C. difficile bacteria produce toxins, which can damage the bowel and cause diarrhea. C. difficile is the most frequent cause of infectious diarrhea in Canadian hospitals and long-term care facilities. C. difficile bacteria and their spores are found in feces. People can get infected if they touch surfaces contaminated with feces, and then touch their mouths. Healthcare workers can spread the bacteria to their patients if their hands are contaminated.
For healthy people, C. difficile does not pose a health risk. The elderly and those with other illnesses are at a greater risk of infection. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain/tenderness.
As with any infectious disease, frequent hand hygiene is the most effective way of preventing the transmission. Hand washing with soap and water is important during C. difficile outbreaks and is one of the best defenses against further spread of the bacteria.
If you do not have access to soap and water, frequent use of alcohol-based hand rubs is encouraged. Most healthcare facilities provide alcohol-based hand rubs at entrances. Be sure to use them, but be aware that they are less effective than washing with soap and water as they do not destroy C. difficile spores.
If you visit a hospital or long-term healthcare facility, wash your hands often, preferably with soap and water, especially after using the toilet. Gloves should be worn when touching a patient with C. difficile infection or if in contact with his/her environment. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after removing your gloves.
Those at higher risk include the elderly, people with severe underlying illness, and people taking antibiotics or cancer chemotherapy. In addition, patients taking stomach ulcer drugs are at increased risk for contracting C. difficile infection.
This is a very serious infection and the utmost caution should be taken when entering or leaving long-term care facilities, retirement homes and hospitals. By being aware and by washing your hands frequently you can do your part to prevent C. Difficile infection from spreading.
Dr. Bruce Veltri operates Victoria Eldercare, a non-medical home care agency matching exceptional care-givers with elderly seniors, to help them maintain independence and remain safely in their own home. Victoria Eldercare can be contacted by phone, 519-429-2644 or the web-site, www.victoriaeldercare.com