Hospital Beds Tied to Higher Risk of Potentially Fatal Diarrhea

Hospital bed and nurse call button

A recent study found that hospital beds may contribute to a surge in the cases of potentially fatal diarrhea, also known as Clostridium difficile (C. diff) diarrhea, in U.S. health facilities.

Researchers found the risk rises dramatically if previous occupants of the beds received antibiotics.

According to the study’s background information, in the U.S. 27,000 patients die from C. diff. diarrhea every year. Study authors explained that antibiotics disturb the patients good gut flora and raise their risk of developing the infection.

The latest research is one of the first studies to find antibiotics given to one person can influence the risk of disease in another patient. Lead author Dr. Daniel Freedberg noted other studies have also documented the so called “herd” effect of antibiotics. This means, antibiotics can impact people who haven’t taken them.

The Study’s Findings

For the recent study, the team sifted through data on over 200,000 patients in five separate facilities from 2010 through 2015. Researchers analyzed more than 100,000 pairs of patients who shared the same bed.

The study did not include previous bed occupants who had themselves a C. diff infection or used the bed for less than 24 hours. Less than 1 percent of study participants developed the potentially fatal diarrhea as second bed occupants.

Researchers noticed the risk of developing the condition was 22 percent higher if the first occupant of the bed had taken antibiotics. No other factors were associated with the increased risk.

Freedberg explained C.diff patients can carry the disease and not knowing it. But when they get exposed to antibiotics, good gut bacteria die and C. diff. can feely expand within their gut.

If that happens, the pathogen can produce more spores which later contaminate the bed, floor, bedside table and other items and areas near the patient. As a result, the next occupant of the room will be more likely to develop the condition.

Researchers noted that it is very difficult to “sterilize” an entire hospital room. C. diff. spores are extremely persistent because they die only if they get exposed to a bleach-based cleaning solution.

Scientists said doctors give antibiotics to about half of patients in acute care settings. One researcher noted that is a “huge” number of people who can spread the infection. The good news is that the upped risk remains modest.

Study investigators said a second occupant of a hospital bed has a 22 percent risk of developing the condition. But he or she has a four-fold risk to be diagnosed with the infection if he or she receives antibiotics.

Doctors Overprescribe Antibiotics

Researchers warn that other people can help with the spread if they take antibiotics. For instance, doctors and nurses can contribute to C. diff spread if they take the medication when not necessary.

Freedberg pointed out that doctors prescribe antibiotics “far too often.”

But Jack A. Gilbert, a researcher with the Argonne National Laboratory who was not involved in the research, advises patients and doctors to take the findings with a pinch of salt. He said the study results are “tempting” for a shift in hospital policy, but the “uncertainties” require more research.

Researchers published their findings in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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