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Thursday 27th October 2016

Superbug deaths on the rise

22nd February 2007

Clostridium difficile is now being linked to more deaths than MRSA. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show one in 500 death certificates between 2001 and 2005 mentioned MRSA. For C. difficile it was one in 250.


A total of 3,800 deaths involved C. difficile in 2004/5. Figures for MRSA for the same period show an increase of 39 per cent to 1,629.

The rise includes all deaths where the infections were mentioned as a contributory factor, but not necessarily the cause of death. Most occurred among older patients.

The government say the rises are caused by more accurate reporting, rather than actual increasing rates of infection. The ONS agreed greater public awareness of C. difficile could have contributed to the increase.

Healthworkers’ union Unison has called for safe minimum cleaning staffing levels to be set, while patients’ groups added their fears that infection control is being forgotten amid growing pressure to cut waiting times.

Health minister Lord Hunt said healthcare associated infections (HAIs) were a government priority, with hygiene targets helping to reduce MRSA rates within hospitals. And he promised similar action to reduce C. difficile, although a range of measures that have reduced MRSA contamination, such as alcohol hand rubs, have had no effect on C. difficile.

C. difficile naturally occurs in around three per cent of the healthy population but can cause problems if it grows unchecked. It can live outside the body for long periods and spread in the air. Only thorough cleaning with warm water and detergent will remove these spores.

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