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C. diff – The killer "superbug" that hates soap, hates bleach, and hates buttermilk

Updated on March 22, 2016
Clostridium difficile
Clostridium difficile | Source

Let's talk about a really BAD superbug

Think of a really bad bug, a bug that is mean to deal with and really hard to kill once it gets to biting on you. While you are thinking about this little guy, try to understand that it is you and I who have trained him in his bad habit of tearing up someone’s innards, maybe yours, whenever you clear the way for him.

You would be thinking of the superbug of superbugs – Clostridium difficile (or C. diff, as he has become known).

C. diff - a survivor

C. diff has evolved into superbug status by surviving dose after dose of powerful antibiotic medicines, many different kinds, over a long enough period of time. This has allowed that bacterium to develop a formidable immunity to all but the most powerful antibiotics – and it has come a long way toward that "all," too.

C. diff, the really antibiotic-resistant kind, likes to hang around hospitals and medical facilities. A patient pops into a hospital bed with some sort of malady for which the doctor prescribes some antibiotic to effect a cure for what ails him. If luck is with the patient, the other bad bugs are zapped by the medicine and the patient goes home from the hospital a renewed and happy person. If the patient’s luck is missing, the good bugs in his intestines are wiped out sufficiently for whatever C. diff bugs were living in there to take over and cause that patient a bellyache the like of which he could never have imagined possible. C. diff took over, so to speak. Sometimes, in addition to a raging diarrhea and worse, this nasty superbug may decide to eat away at the patient’s intestine. Sometimes the "cure" for the C. diff infection is decided to be more antibiotic. Sometimes it may be decided to use another medication. When those don’t work, sometimes a large part of the patient’s intestine is removed, and the gobbling C. diff along with it. What choices!

The enemy of my enemy is probably my friend

Some thinking doctors have set about some possibly more rational cures for this quite serious, often deadly, C. diff attack. The cause, they reasoned, was a Clostridium difficile bug that most antibiotics would not touch and that this bug enjoyed attacking intestines that antibiotics had largely cleared of "friendly" bugs, happy little belly bugs that kept that C. diff bully in check. These smart medics have begun to treat their C. diff patients several ways, the first of which is "tasty" and the second of which is rather "gross."

An old-timey doc with some old-timey buttermilk

I can personally remember my good Dr. Rice (U.S. Navy) who decided one day that I needed a bunch of erythromycin tablets for whatever he thought ailed me (in addition to ignorance and a bad disposition...). His whole prescription consisted of those antibiotic pills plus a quart of farm-fresh buttermilk every day (and don't spill a drop of that buttermilk, either). He knew what the modern medics figured out about C. diff. "Surround the belly’s bad bugs with good bugs in order to keep those mean guys from taking over and killing GusTheRedneck. Preserve him to pester folks for years and years to come." So much for the "tasty" part.

Good luck with "Yuck"

As to the gross part as is now being put forth as a really effective cure for a raging C. diff infection, how does a "poop enema" sound to you? No kidding, it is said to be highly effective. The enema is made up of human feces from one or more healthy donors and it re-introduces "good" bacteria into a patient’s ravaged intestine.

Isn’t it amazing how, when things get messed up by the march of "progress" (like hospital medicine, antibiotics, all sorts of diagnostic equipment, and on and on) they can be rescued from their several big failures by a return to "messy" simplicity?

Let’s consider something else of importance before leaving the C. diff story.

C. diff is probably the world's original teetotaler

It has become apparent that the hospital environment is the comfortable home of the really bad C. diff bug, the one that is always ready to eat a person’s insides if only someone will prescribe a medicine to a patient to get rid of the belly’s "good" bugs so that C. diff can have the go-ahead to dine on the person. Can those hospital C. diffs be eliminated?

Likely not altogether, but there are two easy ways to make some headway toward clearing them from the premises. Probably the most important of the two is to insist that all who deal with patients or deal with anything in the patient environment pay attention to hand washing. Hand washing and not squirts of that alcohol-containing hand wipe stuff that so many hospital workers believe to be sufficient should be the rule. If you are a patient, never let any hospital worker touch you or things around you unless you know that they washed their hands first with soap and water – and then donned a clean pair of examination gloves. Yell at them if they fail to do this. After all, it is your belly.

The second way is "housekeeping" which, in the context of C. diff, includes the whole environment. C. diff laughs at alcohol. It will sort of curl up into spore form and wait around until the alcohol evaporates – and then it rears its head and teeth again. Bleach solution kills it, but you have to get to it with the bleach. If you want to spread C. diff around effectively, don’t wash your hands, don’t wipe doorknobs, keyboards, and floors with bleach solution, and whistle while you work at helping to zap some more patients.

Now, who would ever have thought of those things?

Soap, water, and bleach. Now who would ever have thought of those? Probably the same docs who came up with the probiotics to drink and the poop enemas to enjoy.



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