C. Diff Spores Survive Hospital Laundry: How to Stay Safe From the Bacteria

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The horror stories of people picking up infections and other illnesses in hospitals are in the news a lot. While hospitals are not the hotbed of disease that the more salacious reports would have you believe, there is a concern there and a reason to stay informed on this topic.

The recent news that comes from a study that looked at the survival of clostridium difficile in hospital sheets, gives us another opportunity to look at hospital safety and what we can do to protect ourselves.

What Is Clostridium Difficile?

Clostridium difficile, or C diff is a bacterium that usually causes diarrhea and some abdominal cramping, in severe cases it can cause people to be dehydrated and have an inflamed and even bleeding colon.

C. diff commonly affects older individuals who have had a course of antibiotics or are in hospitals or other long-term care facilities. More recently, C. diff has been noted in people who do not fit into these criteria. This increasing rate of C. diff in people who have not previously considered high risk is troubling.

Risk Factors for C. Diff

While there appears to be a new strain of C. diff that responds in a much more aggressive way and is more resistant to treatment there are still a few overarching risk factors to be wary of:

Antibiotics: Taking any kind of antibiotics can leave you vulnerable for C. diff as the antibiotics that kill infection and bacteria can’t distinguish between good bacteria and bad.

Proton pump inhibitors: If you’re taking proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid, studies have shown that you have an increased risk for developing C. diff.

Serious illness or treatment: If your immune system is already struggling with an intestinal or digestive ailment or you’re undergoing treatment, like chemotherapy, you are more at risk for getting C. diff.

Hospitalization or long-term care: Germs are spread easily in these facilities. Compounding that risk, C. diff is a particularly hearty strain of bacterium that’s easily transferred.

The last risk factor becomes more important as it has recently been discovered that C. diff isn’t just transferred through touch in a healthcare facility, but it can also remain on hospital bed sheets and be transferred in this manner.

The study that reviewed C. diff survival after hospital washing found, by using naturally contaminated sheets and purposely contaminated sheets, that clostridium difficile spores are able to survive laundering through commercial hospital washers and the use of bleach in the laundering process.

This means not only are patients at risk for exposure in this manner, so are laundry and hospital workers.

This highlights the importance of being proactive and doing what you can to protect yourself from C. diff.

How to Protect Yourself from C. Diff

There are two different approaches to protecting yourself from C. diff. To some degree, you can protect yourself from exposure. The other way to protect yourself is with proactive measures. Take as many of the following precautions as possible to protect yourself from C. diff.

Probiotics: Taking probiotics is recommended by most doctors, whenever you are prescribed antibiotics, to help protect you from C. diff. You can boost your level of protection by taking probiotics on a regular basis.

Hand-washing: Washing with soap and warm water is the best way to combat C. diff and should be done religiously whenever in contact with someone who has it or in a place, like a hospital, where it thrives.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not destroy C. diff spores.

Less antibiotics usage: Avoid taking antibiotics for viral illnesses that aren’t helped by these drugs. If you must take them, ask for a narrow range drug that is taken for the shortest time possible.

Probiotics and C. Diff

Let’s look a little deeper into the benefits of taking probiotics as a precautionary and reactionary method for handling C. diff.

One thing you’ll note when looking at the risk factors for C. diff is that it is traditionally not something that affects healthy adults. This is because the body’s bacterial flora naturally protects itself from C. diff colonization in healthy individuals.

It’s when there is a disturbance in the healthy gut bacteria that C. diff and other bacteria are allowed to establish themselves and then flourish.

| Related: How to Choose the Right Probiotics Supplement for You |

By introducing probiotics, healthy gut flora can be re-established, and the body can once again fight off bacteria that can be harmful. This approach is reinforced by a publication in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology entitled Probiotics in Clostridium Difficile Infection.

While it suggests that more research is needed, it also stresses that based on the importance of developing a resistance to C. diff, prophylactic and therapeutic approaches to restoring gut microbiota through probiotics is promising.

The Bottom Line

Clostridium difficile is a serious bacterial infection that typically affects people who have recently taken or are still taking antibiotics and people who are hospitalized or in a long-term care facility.

Protecting yourself from C. diff and seeking immediate care if you suspect you have it, is essential to ensure a healthy digestive system. Probiotics may be an important part of defending yourself and preventing infection.

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