Most people assume their time in the hospital will leave them feeing healthier, but sadly, this is not always the case. For many, a hospital stay leads to health issues that are as bad, or worse, than what originally sent them in for treatment. In many instances, the antibiotics used to treat a problem can increase the odds of a patient developing an infection during his or her hospital stay. One of the most common cases in which this occurs is with gastrointestinal infections, and specifically, Clostridium difficile. This germ, commonly known as C.diff, is becoming increasingly more common and more difficult to treat.
What Should Hospital Patients Know about Gastrointestinal Infections caused by C. Diff?
C. diff is usually harmless, though it is the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in the United States ahead of norovirus. What causes C. diff to be more serious than other gastrointestinal infections is its interaction with antibiotic medications. Antibiotics kill off bacteria that are harmful, but in the process, also damage helpful bacteria, especially in the gut. Without the protection of helpful bacteria, C. diff is able to grow and cause serious medical issues for the already compromised immune systems of hospital patients. When a person is ill or recovering from a medical procedure and is affected by fever and diarrhea, his or her health can take a serious turn for the worse.
C. diff spreads fast, too, especially in public environments like a hospital. Patients affected by C. diff bacteria shed spores in their bowel movements. When proper sanitization procedures are not followed, these spores can make their way onto people’s hands or into food, which leads to the spread of the infection. The majority of people who are affected by C. diff bacteria are those receiving care in hospitals or living at long-term care facilities. In most cases, they are being treated with antibiotics. Those most at risk for developing a problem from C. diff infections include those suffering from serious illnesses and those over the age of 65.
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Infections:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal cramping
- Mucus in stool
- Weight loss
- Blood in stool
How Common are Hospital Related Gastrointestinal Infections?
According to data compiled from Pennsylvania hospitals, the hospitalization rate for diseases associated with C. diff increased by 173% from 1995 to 2005. Nearly 20% of these cases involved patients over the age of 65.
According to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported in a March 2012 article in the New York Times, deaths from gastrointestinal infections more than doubled from 1999 to 2007, to more than 17,000 a year from 7,000 a year. Of those who died, 83 percent were over age 65. Two thirds of these deaths were caused by C. diff, which many contracted during their time in a hospital or nursing homes. Data shows about 94% of all C. diff infections come from a hospital or other medical setting.
Who is at Fault if I Develop a Hospital Related Gastrointestinal Infection?
C. diff and gastrointestinal infections in general can be some of the most preventable diseases in existence. Often, hand washing and maintaining a sanitary environment is enough to prevent the spread of the germs associated with these types of infections. Unfortunately, in the case of C. diff, soap and water and alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not enough. Health workers need to wear gloves to avoid contaminating their hands and spreading the infection, so there is little patients can do to protect themselves outside of insisting medical providers wear gloves.
Patients have some responsibility in caring for personal hygiene, but because they are under the supervision of medical staff and spending time in a medical environment, the primary responsibility for preventing gastrointestinal infections is with the hospital. Hospital staff can and should be held accountable when patients develop gastrointestinal infections that lead to serious medical complications.
Whether a gastrointestinal infection lengthens the time of a hospital stay, or it creates other serious complicated medical issues, including death, patients have the right to take legal action. If you or a loved one developed a C. diff infection or another type of gastrointestinal infection during or after a hospital stay, it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. You need to understand your rights and determine whether or not you are entitled to compensation because of your experience.