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C. Diff cases on the decline

| Monday, March 5, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

The number of patients hospitalized in Pennsylvania each year with a deadly intestinal bug has been in a steady decline for nearly a decade, according to a study released by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

Clostridium difficile, or C. Diff for short, is a bug that causes inflammation in the colon, severe diarrhea and cell death. More than half a million Americans are affected each year by the super bug, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Mortality rates for hospitalized patients with C. Diff declined 42 percent, from the 2008 rate of 9.7 percent. Length of a hospital stay of an affected patient was six days, down from eight days a decade ago. The 30-day re-admission rate for a C. Diff patient also declined by 14 percent during that time period.

In most cases, C. Diff is caused by the unnecessary use of antibiotics, says Raymond Pontzer, acting director of infection prevention for UPMC and an infectious disease physician. UPMC, he says, has been reaching out to its small community hospitals to educate physicians about the use of the drug. Also, patients on an immunotherapy treatment run a high risk for developing the bug, Pontzer says.

“People can get terribly sick,” says Pontzer, adding that improper antibiotic treatment changes the balance of bacteria. The healthy bacteria are wiped out, causing people to develop severe diarrhea, cramping and nausea.

In its study, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council said the hospitalization rate last year for C. Diff in Allegheny County was 14.1 percent for every 10,000 residents, down from 26 percent a decade ago. In Westmoreland County, the rate was 20.8 percent, down from 23.9 percent. Washington County had a rate of 16 percent, a slight increase from 2008's rate of 14.7 percent. Butler County, meanwhile, had a rate of 11.3 percent, down from 16.3 percent a decade earlier.

The study also said women — 14.5 percent — are affected more often by C. Diff, compared with the 11.4 percent rate for men. The majority of the C. Diff cases are people who are 65 and older, the report said.

In addition, the affected rate for white Pennsylvanians is 14.2 percent, while the rate for blacks is 12.5 percent and 3.5 percent for Hispanics.

“Releasing this brief helps raise awareness about how these infections affect Pennsylvania residents and highlights the burden they place on the health care system,” says Joe Martin, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council's executive director, in a release.

Page Babbit, vice president of quality, safety and value at Allegheny Health Network, says she is not surprised C. Diff rates have fallen. Like most all health care providers, AHN is vigilant about hygiene.

“C. Diff has been on our radar for a while,” she says.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-871-2346 or or via Twitter @41Suzanne.

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