Healthcare News & Insights

Are probiotics the answer to C. diff infections in hospital patients?

Colstridium difficile (C. diff) is linked to 14,000 deaths annually and is rapidly increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Translated into dollars, it’s estimated that C. diff costs about $1.8 billion annually, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. So for hospitals, finding a way to reduce the occurrence of C. diff is vital to reducing costs.

131900668The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story on one hospital that thinks it’s found a way to reduce its C. diff cases.

In 2011, Holy Redeemer Hospital in Meadowbrook, PA, discovered that its number of cases of C. diff was on the rise. Not a good thing when most hospitals are looking for ways to decrease care costs.

This rise was in spite of measures implemented to eliminate this antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While soap and water can remove spores from hands, that’s only part of the war. The alcohol-based cleaners used in hospitals to wipe down surfaces and door knobs aren’t 100% effective in destroying them.

Probiotics join the battle

What was effective at fighting C. diff was probiotics.

The facility’s C. diff cases went from 75 in 2011 (a 12.5% infection rate) to 23 in 2012 (a 4% infection rate).

Probiotics, the small organisms that help maintain the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines, are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures, such as in yogurt, soy yogurt, or as dietary supplements.

The reason probiotics seem to be successful in lowering C. diff infection rates is that while antibiotics kill the bad bacteria in the intestines, it also destroys the good bacteria. Killing off both allows the bacterium C. diff to colonize and produce a toxin that causes diarrhea, dehydration and fever. For patients who are already sick, this can be deadly leading to kidney failure, recurrent infection and death

Now, for patients who are on antibiotics, Holy Redeemer and other hospitals are testing adding probiotics as a preventive measure to these patients’ diets.

More research needed

In a 2011 study at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, researchers found using probiotics for anywhere from two days to three weeks lowered patients’ odds of getting antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%.

Last year, another study by the RAND Corp., which analyzed published studies, also found probiotics helpful in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

So now that researchers know probiotics are effective for preventing and treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea, now the question is which strand is most effective. Since there are several different strains and multiple formulations of probiotics, more research needs to be done to determine the most effective strand and dosage.

So if you are thinking, “We should give all hospitalized patients probiotics to prevent C. diff,” the problem is: Probiotics can also cause infections in some patients.

However, due to its high success rate thus far, further investigation is definitely worthwhile.


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