by Alex Chang

Clostridum difficile is one of the more discussed topics surrounding the rising epidemic of antimicrobial resistance microorganisms. Originating from our own intestinal microbiome, it is a gram positive, rod shaped bacteria originally isolated in 1935.   It was a benign micro-organism until a series of experiments around the 1970’s showed that C.difficile (C.diff) was one of the primary causes of antibiotic associated colitis.

The epidemiology of C.diff infections are global, and the bacteria itself is typically benign and found in multiple environmental reservoirs such as food, water, soil, and domesticated animals.  It’s a bacterium so ubiquitous that its found in 25-50% of fecal samples from asymptomatic infants.  However, around 2005, more patients were becoming unresponsive to the typical treatment for this bacterial infection, and soon there was recognition as its potential to insight a global epidemic.

What is concerning is how well resistant C.diff can occupy space in built environments, in particular in hospital rooms where studies have shown that the resistant strain is detectable on 49% of the rooms occupied by patients with colitis.  The typical method of finding new treatment means the development of a novel antibiotic, but exploration into new, alternative treatments that aren’t as costly have become the new prerogative.

Two weeks ago a clinical intervention study concluded on the effectiveness that UV light may have on surfaces of hematology-oncology units in three hospitals.  Given that hospital reinfection is one of the primary drivers of the spread of anti-bacterial resistant C.diff, it is important to find methods in trying to reduce the contamination of the bacteria in rooms where immune-compromised patients may be housed in for extended periods of time.   This is especially important when considering C.diff can survive on environmental surfaces for months and that standard cleaning of hospital rooms is typically inadequate for ridding of the microbial threat.

This intervention study spanned a 12-month period using ultraviolet wavelength C germicidal irradiation (UVGI) on rooms that were previously occupied with C.diff infected patients.  This intervention was compared with a 12-month baseline and shows promised by reducing 25% of infection with C. diff.  This is especially impressive when considering that other non-study units in the hospital increased 16% over the baseline during the same period.

With the potential to pose a major threat to hospital patients, new methods such as those previously described are absolutely crucial to making genuine headway on what is becoming a pandemic.