Silent Spray of C.diff

Hospitals aren't always the safest places to be. This statement was true hundreds of years ago and is still true today. Among the many hazards that a patient faces when hospitalized is the omnipresent threat of a hospital-acquired infection (HAI). Among the literal cornucopia of HAIs, Clostridium difficile (C.diff) is one that merits special attention. This infection, the result of a disrupted intestinal microbiome, causes a spectrum of illness that  can range from mild diarrhea to life threatening dilation of the colon. Antibiotics are a major risk factor for disrupted one's microbiome allowing the bacteria to take hold. 

Patients with C.diff literally spray the room with the organism -- a fact that requires special infection control measures to be put in place (e.g., isolation, soap/water hand-washing). However, even with strict adherence to those measures C.diff transmission still occurs.


There is a silent majority of asymptomatic C.diff shedders that abound in the hospital surreptitiously spreading the infection. A new study conducted in Quebec shows how this reservoir of contagion leads to potentially preventable cases of C.diff. In this study, approximately 5% of hospitalized patients were found to harbor C.diff without symptoms. The study not only quantified the burden of asymptomatic C.diff but then implemented some infection control measures (but not full C.diff infection control). By doing so, they prevented over 60% of the cases of C.diff they "expected" to occur based on historical pre-intervention rates. 

This, to me and many others, seems like a clear path forward to reducing the burden of C.diff infection which kills about 30,000 people annually in the US. But, there is clearly an aversion by some hospital quality management executives to quantifying--or even studying--this phenomenon. It appears to me they prefer to not know so as to avoid the need for more private isolation rooms and/or opening up another avenue of medical-legal risk. However, asymptomatic shedders transmit C.diff whether one acknowledges it or not and until hospitals address this fact C.diff will prowl the hospitals cloaked in a robe of invisibility.