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Was C. diff exposure to blame for a loved one's death?

Victor Lewin - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One of the dangers facing the residents of Halifax long-term care centers and nursing homes, as well as patients in hospitals, is exposure to Clostridium difficile. The bacteria commonly known as C. diff can cause disabling bouts of diarrhea and other intestinal problems to already debilitated senior citizens and others.

C. diff is produced naturally in our bowels and bellies and is also found in natural environments like soil. It is the primary source of infectious diarrhea in hospitals and care facilities throughout Canada.

Symptoms of the bacterial infection include:

-- Fever

-- Nausea

-- Watery diarrhea

-- Abdominal pain and tenderness

-- Loss of appetite

Some infected with C. diff remain asymptomatic, however. Those most at risk for a C. diff infection are patients already on antibiotic therapies for other ailments. Antibiotics alter the "good" bacteria that thrive in the bowel and gut and keep people healthy. Elderly residents battling other illnesses are at highest risk.

The C. diff bacteria spreads through direct contact. Improperly sterilized medical equipment like thermometers or dirty toilets can spread it from one patient or resident to another, as can gloved or bare hands. Proper handwashing techniques are the best defense against widespread infection.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Exeter developed a specific four-point test that accurately predicts patients' death risk from C. diff. By using these predictors, clinicians can better manage their high-risk patients. The indicators are:

-- Respiratory rates

-- Serum albumin levels

-- White cell count

-- Levels of C-reactive protein

If you or a loved one was exposed to C. diff and suffered serious consequences and/or developed a worsened medical condition, you may have a cause of action for a medical malpractice claim.

Source: novascotia.ca, "Clostridium Difficile," accessed Aug. 13, 2015

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