Raising Awareness of C. Difficile Infection

Researchers believe that they are coming close to finding a new way to treat Clostridium difficile, a serious problem in the health care system today. An early study, published recently in PLOS One, has demonstrated promising results that could pave the road to a new way of managing the infection. To date, the most recent medication to treat C. difficile introduced to the U.S. market was Dificid  (fidaxomicin), which was approved by the FDA in 2011.

Although C. difficile can be found in the community, it is commonly contracted by people who are in a health care facility, either acute care, long-term care, rehabilitation, or even walk-in clinics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans get an estimated 1.7 million hospital-acquired or hospital-associated infections (HAIs) annually. C. difficile, a hospital-acquired infection (HAI), results in an estimated 14,000 deaths per year in this country and causes immediate and long-term discomfort to countless more people. Given how and where it is spread, C. difficile is an illness that is largely preventable and, while new treatment options are essential, health care professionals must work at preventing them in the first place.

The cost of C. difficile

When patients contract a C. difficile infection, there are financial, societal and family costs associated with the illness. Financially, the cost of longer hospitalizations, isolation and extra medications is growing. The CDC estimates that these infections result in an estimated extra $1 billion annually in health care costs in the United States.

The cost to family and society is also great. Previously active contributors to society cannot continue their activities if they are hospitalized or isolated because of a C. difficile infection. Recovery from the infection, which can be very long, may leave the patients weak and unable to resume their usual activities for a considerable length of time. Having such an infection keeps people from going to work, volunteering in the community, participating in family gatherings, and more. Patients who are isolated may become depressed, which can lead to a host of other physical or mental health issues. Family members who are caregivers may also find it difficult to continue in their regular roles if they must provide extra care to someone who becomes ill.

The cost of prevention

The cost to prevent the spread of infections such as C. difficile is much lower than is the cost of caring for patients who have contracted them. The most basic and inexpensive of all preventative measures is hand washing, something that all healthcare professionals should be doing on a regular basis.

Education regarding infection control is vital, not just in nursing school, but throughout healthcare facilities routinely – for every person. Everyone who works in such facilities, from the housekeepers to the office staff to the hands-on caregivers, needs to know how to prevent the spread of infections.

One way to empower yourself through knowledge is to pursue an online Master of Science Nursing, infection prevention and control specialization degree or Infection Prevention and Control Certificate.

Salaries for members of an infection prevention and control team may seem costly at first, but the high costs of caring for infected patients must be taken into consideration when deciding on annual budgets. Facilities that do not have the funds or that are not large enough for a dedicated infection control team can educate a few employees in infection prevention and the responsibility could become part of their job. While traditionally, infection preventionists are nurses or doctors, any qualified professional could be certified.

Supporting infection prevention

Education, while important, isn’t the only aspect of efficient infection control. Staff support is also essential. An overwhelmed nursing staff that may have to care for too many patients or patients who are too acutely ill for the available resources may end up cutting corners to get the work done.

A supportive work environment is also essential in helping staff maintain acceptable infection control standards. A study published in August 2012 found that there was a connection between an increase in HAIs and nurses who were suffering from burn out. The work environment, which includes team work, acceptable staff: patient ratios, positive relations between staff and management, good job satisfaction, and ready availability of necessary resources all can help cut down the number of nurses who may burn out, in turn cutting the risk of a lower standard of care that can result in increased infection rates. Infection prevention is everyone’s business and, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including CCNE-accredited programs in infection prevention and control, case management and nursing leadership.

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