C. diff. infections are a life and death issue

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Losing a loved one is always painful. It’s particularly excruciating when their death was preventable.

Before my mom died from a C. diff infection, I had never heard of it. She was being treated with antibiotics for pneumonia in the hospital and died less than 12 hours after being diagnosed. The day she died was the biggest devastation of my life. It’s my hope that my loss can help others by raising awareness of C. diff and protecting other families from this preventable disease.

Such is the devastation that tens of thousands in U.S. families suffer each year from an infection known as C. diff. This illness is hiding in plain sight. Nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. die from it annually. About 500,000 get sick. Here in Rhode Island, 30 percent of C. diff infections had a standardized infection ratio higher than the national average, according to the CDC. Yet 70 percent of Americans don’t even know about this epidemic. Most of us who come down with a life-threatening case haven’t heard of the disease until we’re tested or diagnosed with it.

That’s why I decided to tell my family’s story as part of “See C. diff,” a public education campaign from the Peggy Lillis Foundation to commemorate C. diff. Awareness month. We aim to build on the 30 percent of Americans who have heard of the disease. All of us need to know its symptoms, how it spreads, and how we can stop it.

C. diff (or Clostridioides difficile) is a germ that causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon. Anyone can develop a C. diff infection. Factors of added risk include taking antibiotics, staying in a healthcare facility and being more than 65 years old. Children can get it, too, as do more than 17,000 each year in the U.S. C. diff is the most common healthcare-associated infection.

Given that C. diff now kills more Americans each year than HIV/AIDS, it’s stunning that only a third of us have heard of it. C. diff is largely preventable, and knowledge is key to prevention. With knowledge, a well-informed patient or caregiver can take action to prevent its spread, such as ensuring good hand hygiene and using chlorine bleach solutions to clean surfaces.

C. diff is treatable. Novel and long-standing antibiotics, fecal microbiota transplants, and other therapies are available, if patients can access them. Raising C. diff awareness is also about ensuring that those suffering can find the best therapy as quickly as possible.

Through “See C. diff,” PLF and our partners seek to raise awareness of C. diff infection, its risk factors, symptoms, and treatments. Through print, and earned media, the foundation is partnering with leading nonprofits, professional associations, industry leaders, and our own growing network of C. diff survivors and caregivers to reach the 70 percent of Americans who don’t yet know that C. diff is a potential threat.

See C. diff comes at a pivotal time for the fight against this disease. While hospital-acquired C. diff infections have declined somewhat, the disease is increasingly found in the community and among populations considered low risk. This makes broad public awareness, particularly among family healthcare decision-makers, all the more important.

Please do your part. Be informed about C. diff. Talk to the people nearest and dearest to you. I wish someone had spoken to me about this infection before I felt its impact firsthand. What we don’t know can hurt us, and awareness can be a lifesaver.

Meghan Mimnaugh is a process improvement analyst/hospital liaison for the National Perinatal Information Center at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence and an advocate for the Peggy Lillis Foundation.

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