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Surgeon’s gowns and the spread of C. diff

Surgeon's gowns linked to c. diff.The reality of hospital-acquired infections is one that is difficult to ignore. New research has spotlighted one particular infection to which hospital visits can expose people. 

This time, alarm bells are being sounded about Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff), a bacterium linked to stomach ailments such as diarrhoeal disease and colitis which can lead to toxins affecting the bowel. C. diff infection is often linked to taking antibiotics. Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, and pain in the abdomen; severe infections, however, can lead to potentially life-threatening symptoms such as rupturing of the colon. 

C. diff is contagious, with spores able to last in environments for extended periods. This can lead to individuals being infected when they come into contact with the spores on surfaces, highlighting the importance of sanitation in hospital environments where patients are most vulnerable. Concerningly, however, new research has found that treating hospital environments with standard disinfectants may be ineffective. “This shows that “spores are becoming resistant and we need to reconsider how we decontaminate and employ hygiene measures in hospitals,” said Tina Joshi, a lecturer in molecular microbiology at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

One route of transmission is actually through the clothing and protective equipment that medical professionals wear. The research found that C. diff spores survive on the gowns worn by surgeons, even after the treatment with disinfectant.  “Due to this resistance, it may be prudent to reconsider how much biocide we use currently, and to ensure infection control is standardised,” noted Joshi. “This work can be applied to hospitals anywhere in the world, and should help inform future guidelines on infection control and biocides.”

The finding about surgeon’s gowns is reminiscent of an earlier study which found that sixteen percent of doctor’s lab coats coats surveyed are contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and 42 percent with the gram-negative class of bacteria which includes E. coli and chlamydia trachomatis – showing the potential for medicos’ garb to spread infections in an environment where they are already rampant.

C. diff is infrequently discussed in India, but has been flagged by researchers as an emerging public health issue. According to one research paper, overuse of antibiotics can be linked to the spread of the disease as well as inadequacies in infection control within hospitals. In India, one in every four hospital visits results in the patient developing a hospital-acquired infection (HAIs). In a country where diarrhoeal diseases are the most common causes of infectious disease outbreaks, vigilance against C. diff and other HAIs is crucial, with strengthening hygiene and sanitation protocols in hospitals a key step.

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