Previous patients' antibiotic use may up C. diff risk for patients assigned to same bed

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Patients' risk of contracting Clostridium difficile may increase if they're assigned to a bed where previous patients were given antibiotics, new research suggests.

Researchers found that if a previous patient was given antibiotics, the chances for the next patient assigned to that hospital bed being infected with C. diff were nearly 1%, compared to less than half of 1% if the previous patient was not on antibiotics. The increased risk was likely because antibiotics may cause the number of C. diff germ spores to grow and persist, researchers noted.

The research reflects both infection control problems and a need to prescribe antibiotics carefully, experts said.

"This underscores the idea that hospitals are not being sanitized enough or they can't be sanitized enough," said Marc Siegel, M.D., a professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center who did not participate in the study. "There is an increased need for increased sterilization procedures between patients."

The study “provides evidence that there is a herd effect with antibiotics," said lead researcher Daniel Freedberg, M.D., MS, with Columbia University Medical Center. "In other words, antibiotics have the potential to affect the health of people who don't themselves receive antibiotics."

Results of the study were published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.