Alright, so what actually is C. diff?
The facts: Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a bacteria that causes symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Most often, C. diff impacts older adults who become infected in hospitals or long-term care facilities. However, in recent years, it has become more common for young people and those outside of a healthcare facility to acquire the infection as well. Typically, individuals are at higher risk after prolonged use of antibiotic medications. Other risk factors include use of chemotherapy drugs, kidney disease, diseases of the colon, and previous C. diff infection, among others.
C. diff infects the colon, typically after antibiotics have killed the normal microorganisms that grow there. The bacteria can then take root in the colon and produce toxins. Often, C. diff bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics used for treatment. Because the standard treatment for C. diff is antibiotics and C. diff is triggered by use of antibiotics, there can be a harsh, cyclical process to fight the infection.
The impact: According to a recent study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half a million people were diagnosed with C. diff in the year 2011, and it was associated with about 29,000 deaths in that year alone. C. diff ranks number one on the CDC’s list of the top 18 drug-resistant threats to the US. It is also one of the most fiscally expensive infections, with an estimated $1,000,000,000 spent in excess medical costs per year.
With these alarming statistics, you’d probably imagine that C. diff would be included in conversations with the same frequency as health challenges like diabetes, depression, or cancer, just to name a few. And yet, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if, before you started reading this page, you had never heard of C. diff. Our family knew little to nothing about it until Nana was diagnosed.
The good news: Research teams like the Microbiota Therapeutics Program (MTP) at the University of Minnesota, with support from organizations like Achieving Cures Together, are trying to change the outcomes. Among other advancements, the MTP has refined and standardized the Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) treatment, which has been shown to treat C. diff even when all other treatments have failed.
In FMT, healthy individuals donate their feces to the program after a rigorous screening process. Then, the samples are processed in the laboratory to separate the healthy microbes. These are frozen with a special preservative and kept in a “Stool Bank”. The healthy microbes can be implanted into patients by various methods, including a colonoscopy. More recently, the MTP team has developed oral capsules with these microbes, which appear equally effective. This treatment helps to rebuild the healthy microbe community within an affected individual’s intestine, which is important to protect against infection and restore normal gut function.
What’s next?: This is where we come in – we have the opportunity to support the incredible work happening to advance the treatment of this devastating infection and promote better outcomes. Click on the tab above to learn how you can help in this fight. In addition, please read this letter describing C. diff and celebrating the work of ACT from Alexander Khoruts, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Minnesota, and key faculty member in Microbiota Therapeutics Program.
In addition to the sources linked above, I would like to thank Dr. Khoruts for sharing his generous time and guidance to help me understand and communicate more effectively about C. diff.
ACT Colfax Team Donation Link: https://www.achievingcures.com/colfaxmarathon
Colfax Registration Link: http://www.runcolfax.org/races/register/
Simply choose the race you’d like to sign up for, and then select Achieving Cures Together from the drop down menu that looks like this: