Healthcare News & Insights

Relationship between antibiotics, hospital beds & C. diff

Hospitals must do their part to reduce antibiotic use so they can stop the spread of deadly infections, including C. diff. If they aren’t necessary, these drugs can jeopardize the health of not just the patients who are prescribed them, but other hospital patients as well. And the risk can begin by assigning them a bed. 

New research from JAMA Internal Medicine91156688 looked at over 100,000 pairs of patients who had the same hospital bed, one after the other, in four different hospital settings over a five-year period.

A small portion of them ended up developing C. diff as the second person to use the bed, according to a Reuters article.

Although the total number was small, patients were 22% more likely to develop the illness if the previous patient who occupied the bed was given antibiotics.

There were no other risk factors in play that would explain this development. None of the first patients who used the beds had an active C. diff infection.

How infection spreads

Researchers suggest that, although the patients didn’t show signs of C. diff, they may have been carriers of C. diff organisms. These organisms can multiply when a patient is given antibiotics, and patients may unknowingly shed large amounts of active C. diff spores from their body.

That means their whole room could be contaminated with C. diff – even if they don’t end up developing the illness themselves.

And it’s difficult to decontaminate a room with C. diff spores. Regular cleaning methods don’t often kill the bacteria. Only soaking the area in a bleach-based cleaning agent will kill any C. diff spores that live on the surface.

With about half of patients in hospitals taking antibiotics on any given day, it’s likely that some cases of C. diff can be attributed to this phenomenon.

This may be part of the reason why hospitals are still having trouble managing their rates of C. diff infection. According to a recent analysis from Consumer Reports, a third of the 3,100 hospitals examined received low ratings for controlling C. diff infections – including renowned facilities like the Cleveland Clinic and Mount Sinai Hospital.

Several of these facilities have already stepped up their C. diff prevention efforts, taking steps such as isolating patients who are suspected of having the illness and using special disinfectants that are EPA-approved to kill C. diff spores.

Also integral in their prevention efforts: a more comprehensive antibiotic stewardship program, so the bacteria don’t get a chance to develop and multiply.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most antibiotic prescriptions for hospital patients aren’t suited for their illnesses. So hospitals must continue to focus on getting providers to prescribe them appropriately – it’s one of the best ways to fight back against the spread of C. diff.

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