A recently published study suggested that antibiotic usage among hospital patients endangers the health of the subsequent patient placed on the same clinic bed, increasing the risk of suffering from a dangerous infection known as Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff).

Antibiotic users often suffer from C. Diff infection since the medication disturbs the healthy bacteria in the patient’s gut, and makes it more accessible for the infection to enter the body. The study published in the JAMA journal suggested that antibiotics have a potential “herd” effect, which means the medication can affect other patients who are not receiving the treatment and spread its effects.

Patient in hospital bed
“Antibiotics given to one patient may alter the local microenvironment to influence a different patient’s risk for C. Diff infection,” read the study. Image credit: Dragonfly Capital.

Spreading a disease through a hospital bed 

Clostridium Difficile or C. Diff is a common bacterium located in the human intestine. However, among antibiotic users and hospital patients who have been receiving medical treatment, the natural intestinal flora is affected and transforms the bacterium into an infection in the colon.

Almost 20 percent of antibiotic users suffer from C-diff symptoms, which includes nausea, fever, watery diarrhea and abdominal pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection causes over 29,000 deaths every year in the U.S.

Clostridium Difficile illustration. Image credit: BioNews Texas.

The infection is shed in a patient’s feces and can be transmitted by direct contact or by surfaces such as bathrooms, toilets, and showers, that have been exposed to the infection.

Dr. Daniel Freedberg, from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, decided to work with a team of colleagues and investigate if the C. Diff bacteria could have the same effects on non-antibiotic hospital patients, and if so, how the infection managed to spread.

Freedberg and his team analyzed the history of over 100,000 pairs of patients located in four different NYC hospitals between 2010 and 2015. The patients had been the subsequent holders of a hospital bed previously used by an antibiotic user.

The team of researchers aimed to understand if the risk of suffering from C. Diff infection augmented among hospital patients, given the amount of antibiotic used in the establishments.

To reduce the population of pairs, the team focused only on those patients who hadn’t recently suffered from C. Diff infection. The study’s initial findings determined that 576 pairs of patients had developed C. Diff related symptoms within the first two to 14 days of arriving at the hospital, and after using an antibiotic user’s former bed.

“Exposure to C. Difficile infection is common in the hospital because C. Difficile spores are capable of persisting in the environment for months,” said researchers.

‘It’s not easy to sterilize the room between patients’

Dr. Freedberg and his colleagues informed that shared hospital rooms and hospital beds used by antibiotic users incremented the risks of acquiring the infection by 22 percent.

The team of researchers explained that antibiotic users could be carrying the C. Diff infection without showing any signs of it. However, subsequent patients were at greater risk, given that C. Diff’s spores are hard to kill and easy to spread.

“The next patient who enters the room is thus more likely to be exposed to C. Diff spores. It’s not easy to sterilize the room/bed between patients because C. Diff spores are extremely hardy. To be killed they need to be soaked in a bleach-containing cleaning agent for an adequate amount of time,” explained Dr. Freedberg to Fox News.

The infection is also spreadable by medical physicians and other hospital workers who could have been in touch with an infected surface. Researchers also explained that people who ingest antibiotics without the proper need might also be contributing to the spread of the C. Diff.

The results of the study were modest, according to the team of researchers. In the end, subsequent hospital patients had a 0.72 percent risk of suffering from the C.Diff infection if the former patient had used antibiotics. Meanwhile, patients whose prior bed user hadn’t use antibiotics were at a 0.43 risk.

Source: JAMA Network