Clostridium difficile, colloquially known as "C Diff," is an increasing public health risk, particularly in hospital settings, but also as a foodborne pathogen. Researchers from the United Kingdom, who compared historical strains of C Diff to the strain involved in a large outbreak at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 2003, say that one of the reasons is that the bug is evolving, and becoming more dangerous.
Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes diarrheal illness in human beings. Actually, however, it is a bug that is naturally, and quite frequently, present in the gastrointestinal tracts of even healthy humans. In fact, the bug is present in as many as 3% of adults and 66% of infants. It typically becomes pathogenic (i.e. capable of causing illness) when the normal intestinal flora in the GI tract is altered, typically as a result of antimocribial treatment in a hospital setting.
But C Diff is not dangerous because it causes only a couple days of diarrhea. A 2002 study showed that the incidence of patients with C. Diff in hospital settings who suffered life-threatening symptoms increased from 1.6% to 3.2%. Forty-four patients required a colectomy and 20 others died directly from C. difficile colitis. The UK study concluded that the bacteria has become more virulent because it has acquired genes which enable it to survive better in the environment, spread more easily and make patients more severely ill.
Thus, for more reasons than just that C. Diff is causing more and more illnesses, the recent UK study finding that the bug is evolving is more than a little disturbing. At the risk of stating the obvious, hospitals are where sick people go . . . people who can least afford to become infected, or succumb to illness from, a bacteria that is becoming more and more virulent.