An Economist article about C. difficile, “From hand to mouth – A new superbug is stalking the world,” sums it up:
IF you are unfortunate enough to catch it, you will suffer from intractable diarrhoea with gut-searing pain and fever. If you are frail, you may die. Should you survive, you may be stricken by repeated bouts of sickness.
Clostridium difficile is an extraordinarily menacing disease attacking more than 400,000 people in the United States each year; and it can strike again and again in the same individual and, indeed, it can be fatal.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have now developed what promises to be a treatment for the very deadly gastrointestinal infection called C. difficile — and without doing harm to the good microorganisms which must be retained in order to prevent a relapse.
This is the nature of the breakthrough for the drug Amixicile, now under investigation at the University of Virginia Medical School — and it appears it could be effective against a number of other troublesome pathogens, as well. UVa researcher Dr. Paul Hoffman explains:
It is so widely effective because it targets enzymes shared by the harmful bacteria. Most of the bad pathogens have this enzyme, and the good guys don’t. The catalytic mechanism is absolutely the same in every one of these organisms, so the way the drug works is the same for all these organisms, even though their enzymes are slightly different.
Recently completed preclinical studies show Amixicile has excellent safety and bioavailability indicators and is a good candidate for clinical trials.
The National Institutes of Health have sponsored the pre-clinical studies and Dr. Hoffman and his fellow UVa. researchers – Dr. Richard L. Guerrant and Dr. Cirle Warren from the UVa School of Medicine, and Timothy L. Macdonald, who holds an additional post in the Chemistry Department of the College of Arts & Sciences. The team will now develop clinical trials to determine whether the drug is as safe, effective and well-tolerated for humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most infections associated with healthcare facilities are declining, but those of C. difficile – linked to 14,000 American deaths each year – is becoming more prevalent.
Clostridium difficile (pronounced: klos-trid-ee-um dif-uh-ceel, or C. dif for short) spreads through spores which can survive outside the body for a long time, and are found all around the person who has the infection. The infection then spreads from person-to-person on the hands of those helping to care for the person who has the infection. Washing of the hands well with soap and water is one of the most powerful ways to protect against spreading the infection to others. If the person with the C. dif infection is still in the hospital, their healthcare providers and visitors must wear a gown and gloves, which are then removed when leaving the room.
In their book, “Clostridium difficile: A Patient’s Guide,” Christopher O’Neal, Marianne Khalil, and Raf Rizk explain further:
Clostridium difficile, a potentially deadly hospital-acquired infection, strikes millions annually around the world. Both the incidence and severity of the disease are growing. A sizable proportion of patients who acquire a C. difficile infection will suffer from repeated recurrences of the disease. This book is meant to educate patients, their families, and their doctors about this growing infectious threat.
Fortunately, a C. dif infection does not usually occur in those who are not taking antibiotics, because the normal microorganisms present in the intestinal tract will prevent the C. dif from taking over.
The Centers for Disease Control has some additional words of advice:
There are a few things you should
do, however, to lower the chances of
developing C. dif infection again or of
spreading it to others.
• If you are given a prescription to
treat C. dif, take the medicine exactly
as prescribed by your doctor and
pharmacist. Do not take half-doses or
stop before you run out.
• Wash your hands often, especially
after going to the bathroom and before
• People who live with you should wash
their hands often as well.
• If you develop more diarrhea after you
get home, tell your doctor immediately.