The Dangers of Clostridium Difficile in California Nursing Homes

Clostridium difficile is one of the most commonly reported healthcare-associated infections in the United States. It has been an ongoing issue in nursing homes and assisted living facilities due to the fact that it can be easily transmitted from person to person through contaminated surfaces, food, and water. If your loved one has recently contracted clostridium difficile in a long-term care facility, it’s essential to understand the risks, treatment options, and preventative measures related to this potentially fatal disease.

What is Clostridium Difficile?

Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff, is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the colon (colitis) as well as potentially life-threatening diarrhea. C. diff is contagious, and the bacterium can be spread through contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, bedrails, shared bathrooms, and medical equipment. Some of the symptoms of clostridium difficile can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain, bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood in feces

Who is at Risk?

Older adults – particularly those over 65 – are more susceptible to clostridium difficile due to age-related changes in fecal-flora, a weakened immune system, and other underlying conditions that require prolonged use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic use in particular is a common risk factor because it disrupts the natural balance of bacteria in the gut. While an antibiotic may be killing the bad germs associated with a particular illness, it may also be getting rid of the good germs that naturally protect the body against C. diff, allowing the bacteria to grow and cause a full-blown infection.

The CDC reports that people are 7 to 10 times more likely to get C. diff infection while taking an antibiotic. C. diff in the elderly can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and other health complications that can quickly become deadly if not properly treated.

Treatment and Control

If you test positive for clostridium difficile, the infection can be cured by taking a specific antibiotic (such as vancomycin or fidaxomicin) over a period of 10 days. During this period, use of other antibiotics for preexisting illnesses should be limited or discontinued if your healthcare professional thinks it’s safe to do so.

During treatment, it’s extremely important that the proper protocol is followed. The patient should be isolated and closely monitored until their diarrhea and other symptoms have resolved. Since C. diff is most commonly spread through surfaces contaminated with fecal matter from the infected patient, objects such as toilets, bathtubs, and rectal thermometers should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected regularly. Healthcare professionals should also wear gloves and gowns when treating patients.

It should also be noted that the likelihood of recurrence is high, as data shows that 33% of nursing home patients aged 65 and over with a C. diff infection will get it again in the subsequent 2-8 weeks. Moreover, of the patients who have had an initial recurrence, up to 65% of them will experience a subsequent recurrence, creating a viscous cycle of infection and re-infection that can easily escalate morbidity and mortality rates among immunocompromised seniors.

C. Diff and Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

Like any other infectious disease, outbreaks of C. diff can be difficult to contain without well-organized and efficient infection control programs. Unfortunately, far too many California nursing homes and assisted living facilities fall short in this area, due to either lack of proper training, inadequate number of personnel, or lack of supervision. These factors can perpetuate patterns of unethical and abusive practices, including but not limited to:

  • Neglect, which can occur when nursing home staff fails to properly clean and disinfect surfaces, leading to the spread of the bacterium (Note: C. diff can be resistant to chemical disinfectants such as hand sanitizer; washing hands with soap and water is preferable. Surfaces must be cleaned with EPA-approved, spore-killing disinfectants).
  • Substandard care, such as when staff members fail to monitor residents for signs of infection or fail to provide appropriate care in a timely manner.
  • Intentional harm, which may occur when staff members withhold treatment or delay seeking medical care in order to punish or control residents.

Incontinence care is particularly important when dealing with a diarrheal illness such as C. diff. The nursing home staff should be thoroughly trained to consistently change and clean a patient’s diapers and bed linens during the symptomatic period of frequent diarrhea, not only for the sake of the patient’s dignity and comfort but also to avoid the risk of other incontinence infections and injuries, such as pressure sores, scabies, or sepsis.

Logistical factors also play an important role when dealing with the aftermath of a C. diff outbreak. Far too often, nursing homes are understaffed or don’t have the adequate quarantine space to effectively isolate and monitor an infected patient.

The disease can also spread unknowingly if one healthcare facility fails to notify another when transferring a patient with C. diff (i.e. from a hospital to a nursing home and vice versa). It’s important to note that a person can come in contact with C. diff germs and not get sick, but they can still carry the germs on or in their body and spread them to others. For this reason, lack of communication between or within medical facilities can have devastating long-term consequences on their patients.

Contact a California Infection Lawyer Today

Nursing homes in California have a legal responsibility to take the steps necessary to ensure that their staff are properly trained in infection control procedures and that they are held accountable for providing appropriate care to residents. Failure to do so can not only lead to devastating or even fatal health complications, but it can also damage a patient’s dignity, quality of life, and mental wellbeing.

If your loved one has contracted C. diff and suffered needlessly due to nursing home abuse or neglect, it’s time to let a legal expert step in and set things right. Our team of experienced elder abuse attorneys will not only hold these institutions accountable but will seek out the compensation you and your loved ones deserve.