Superbug wreaks havoc in hospitals and beyond: how to help people overcome C. diff infections

by Amy Rothenberg, ND

Charlie, an engineer in his early 60s, first came to see me because he was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, for short. When this strain of bacteria over- grows in the gut, it can lead to severe — even lethal— infection.

C. diff is a relatively modern problem, with major outbreaks first occurring in the early 2000s. Often acquired in hospitals or long-term care settings, it tends to strike people after antibiotics have wiped out the “good” intestinal flora. The main symptom is debilitating diarrhea, which is triggered by toxins given off by the bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. diff is responsible for more hospital infections than any other bacteria; each year about half a million people in the U.S. get infected — and nearly 30,000 people die from it.

C. diff infection can be hard to treat once it takes hold. The usual first-line treatment is, ironically, more antibiotics to target the C. diff bacteria. But this approach doesn’t work for many people, and the infection keeps coming back. A growing number of C. diff strains have become resistant to antibiotics, having morphed into “superbugs” that even the most powerful antibiotics do not eradicate.

In fact, Charlie had a similar story to tell. He’d had a C. diff infection two years before he came to see me and again a year before that. He was treated aggressively with antibiotics for each bout of C. diff and had seemingly recovered ... until the problem returned.

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