It's among the most challenging problems in modern healthcare: Clostridium difficile (C. difficile, C. diff), the spore-forming bacterium, infects thousands of patients in hospitals every year. According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine,1 toward the end of the last century the incidence of C. difficile infection (CDI) in hospitals in the United States “remained stable" at less than 40 cases per 100,000 patients. By 2001, however, these numbers started to climb, and by 2005 the infection rate had more than doubled.
In 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 500,000 patients were infected with the diarrhea-causing bacterium, including 29,000 who died within 30 days of their C. diff diagnosis.2 “C. difficile has become the most common microbial cause of healthcare-associated infections in U.S. hospitals," the agency announced when it released its study in 2015. Estimates today peg the cost of C. difficile infection (CDI) at somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion annually.3
Below, find background on this perennial health hazard and an overview of the tools microbiologists can use to fight it.