Move over MRSA. Here comes C. diff. That would be Clostridium difficile, an antibiotic resistant bacterium that, according to the CDC contributes to between 15,000 and 30,000 deaths annually in the U.S. The agency estimated 150,000 cases in 2001, a number that has grown to 500,000 a year currently. Public health officials and alert medical reporters have been aware of the relatively new bug for a while, especially in the U.K., but so far it has not gained the media visibility of earlier superbugs. That may change.
Laura Landro, in her “Informed Patient” column on the Wall Street Journal Web site gives the situation a good ride. She says the microbe (see false color micrograph) is “fast emerging as one of the most dangerous and virulent foes in the war” against antibiotic resistant bacteria even as hospitals begin to gain control over MRSA. Landro explains that resistant forms of C. diff often reside in the human gut but are kept to small numbers by ecological competition from many other gut-native microbes. Until antibiotics kill off those helpful strains. The result, she writes, can be “severe diarrhea, ruptured colons, perforated bowels, kidney failure, blood poisoning and death.”