Scientists have found that a dangerous bacterium capable of causing serious gut infections is triggered by excess calcium in its environment, but the triggering factor might also provide the solution.
Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that chiefly affects older patients living in nursing homes, or those who have been confined to a hospital environment for a long time. Research shows that people most at risk are those undergoing long-term broad-spectrum antibiotic treatments, which weaken the immune system and leave patients vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Spores of C. difficile are spread through feces, contaminating any objects or surfaces they come into contact with. The most common means of further transmission is through the hands of healthcare professionals, who unwittingly come into contact with contaminated items.
But Medical News Today have previously reported on research that associated C. difficiletransmission with simply using the same hospital bed that a patient formerly on antibiotics had also used.
C. difficile infection can cause a wide array of bowel ailments, with the least serious being diarrheaand the most dangerous being colitis, or inflammation of the colon, which leads to death in some cases.
The bacterium forms spores that are extremely hard to kill, rendering the complete disinfection of contaminated surfaces very difficult.
Calcium nourishes C. difficile
The research laboratories of the University of Michigan Medical School (U-M) in Ann Arbor, together with those of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have studied the conditions necessary for C. difficile to release its spores.
The teams were led by Travis Kochan and Philip Hanna, Ph.D., both from U-M, and Dr. Paul Carlson, Ph.D., from the FDA, and their results were recently published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
It was discovered that excess calcium causes C. difficile to germinate. This finding sheds new light as to why senior, long-term hospital patients and nursing home residents are the most exposed to C. difficile infections.
The researchers explained that many of these patients are prescribed medication or supplements that release extra calcium into their systems. Many also have low vitamin D levels, or their system is unable to absorb calcium due to various ailments.
C. difficile is able to track down the excess calcium. This, as well as taurocholate – which is a sodium salt produced from cholesterol – allows the bacterium to germinate.
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Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is becoming a common microorganism in the healthcare systems and poses a catastrophic threat to the United States. It costs the healthcare system up to billions of dollars, leading to serious complications and higher mortality rates per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Caring for C. diff patients is becoming burdensome, time consuming, and overwhelming for nursing staff. It doesn’t just negatively impact patients, but also family members and organizations.
I have worked as a nurse for 16 years in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and as a hand hygiene observer in conjunction with the infection prevention department at the Ohio Hospital Association. During that time, I have seen healthcare workers walking out of rooms with C. diff patients without washing their hands. Once an infection prevention physician tried to argue the necessity of clinicians washing their hands, even when they didn’t touch anything in the room. More than once I asked different healthcare workers, why do we have to wash our hands when caring for C. diff patients and they couldn’t answer.