C.diff more common than MRSA but public not aware

The majority (85 per cent) of Irish people believe incorrectly that MRSA is the most common hospital infection when, in fact, the potentially more serious Clostridium difficile infection (C.diff) is two to four times more common, according to a new survey.

While MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been a leading public health concern for many years, only one in three people has heard of C.diff. This is despite the fact that up to 30 per cent of patients diagnosed with hospital-acquired C.diff die within 30 days.

C.diff is a serious illness – the bacteria produces toxins that cause inflammation of the colon, diarrhoea and, in some cases, death. Symptoms range from mild, self-limiting diarrhoea, to severe, life-threatening bowel complications.

The survey, carried out by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of Astellas Ireland, highlights a misunderstanding among the public that disinfectant alcohol gels can kill the C.difficile spores on your hands. Alcohol gel disinfectant is widely used in hospitals but while it is excellent for the prevention of diseases like MRSA, it does not kill C.difficile spores. The proportion of C.diff cases occurring or originating in nursing homes has risen significantly in recent years to 13 per cent.


Dr Margaret Hannon, microbiologist, said: "The general public need to be aware of what Clostridium difficile is, the symptoms associated with this infection, and to ensure to wash their hands with soap and water as this helps to prevent this infection from spreading."

She explained that the main challenge in the treatment of C.diff was around recurrence as 25 per cent of patients treated with current therapies may suffer a second infection, increasing the risk of developing further infections by 45-65 per cent.

Naomi Fitzgibbon, cancer information services manager at the Irish Cancer Society, said C.diff affected the most vulnerable members in society, particularly patients who were being treated for cancer, as well as other groups whose immunity against infections may be compromised. "There is an inadequate level of awareness of C.diff among the public, which has been confirmed through the Ipsos MRBI awareness survey," she added.

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family