In February 2015, the Swedish public were shocked to learn that an outbreak of a very dangerous variety of the Clostridium difficile bacteria had occurred at a hospital in southern Sweden, infecting 27 patients and killing ten of them. The situation was picked up by media, causing an intense discussion about care related infections in general, and Clostridium difficile in particular.
Serious outbreaks like this one is rare, but still cannot be seen as an isolated event. In Sweden alone, some 7,000 persons* are infected with Clostridium difficile every year – however only a few of these contract the most dangerous variety. In the UK, the situation in similar. Some 14,000 cases** are reported on a yearly basis. Just like in Sweden, the trend is declining.
A threat in the hospital – and at home
In the world as a whole, the number of cases is instead increasing. Most alarming is that more patients tend to get more serious infections, resulting in more deaths. All over the world this spore building bacteria is a severe threat especially to elderly patients, both in hospitals and at home.
Who is at risk?
The majority of Clostridium difficile cases occur in people who have had antibiotics. This may be in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or care home, but can also occur at home without ever going to hospital. Part of the hazard is the fact that many persons carry the bacteria without symptoms. When treated with antibiotics for some reason or another, the sensitive balance inside the body is disturbed and the Clostridium infection may be a fact.
Older people are most at risk from the infection, especially those who are frail or suffer from other medical conditions. People over the age of 65 account for three-quarters of all cases.
* Folkhälsoinstitutet, the Public Health Agency, Sweden
** NHS, National Health Service, UK