Post-Surgery Bacterial Infection Boosts Complications, Death

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Post-surgical complications or death become much more likely if the patient becomes infected with diarrhea-causing bacteria Clostridium difficile, according to a new study.

The study was conducted using data from patients at VA hospital. The researchers found those with Clostridium difficile after surgery were five times more at risk of death and 12 times more at risk of a post-surgical complication involving their lung, kidney, heart, or nervous system.

The study was published in November 2015 in the JAMA Surgery journal.

After surgery, people’s systems are more vulnerable than usual. Clostridium difficile infections therefore are a big hit for people to take after a surgery at the peak of physical vulnerability.

This bacteria is capable of invading people’s intestines, particularly in people whose guts have been wiped clean of bacteria (good and bad) with heavy doses of antibiotics, which is not uncommon before a surgery, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Clostridium difficile is opportunistic and tough.

If a patient has this bacteria in their system, they’re likely to endure nausea, abdominal pain, fever, and severe diarrhea.

This study set out to determine how Clostridium difficile would affect individuals recovering from surgery. Xinli Li from the Veterans Health Administration’s National Surgery Office and his team examined data from 468,000 procedures that took place over the course of four years at VA hospitals.

Just over 1,800 patients developed infections from Clostridium difficile with 30 days of their procedures, which equates to about 0.4 percent annually.

Eighty-six percent of patients with the infection suffered at least one post-surgical complication. Only 7 percent experienced a healthy recovery. And 5 percent of those with Clostridium difficile died within 30 days. Only 1 percent of patients not infected with Clostridium difficile died after surgery.

Patients who contracted Clostridium difficile were also hospitalized longer after surgery. On average, they stayed in the hospital for 18 days, compared to four days for healthy patients.

Researchers concluded that patients who underwent a transplant surgery were most at risk for contracting a Clostridium difficile infections.

This infection can be the last straw for some patients. When their bodies are already vulnerable, this can push them to suffer other complications and a cascade effect can occur.

Using antibiotics judiciously and strictly, to avoid stripping a patient’s gut of all bacteria, will help combat Clostridium difficile infections.

While infection control, such as the use of antiseptics and hand sanitizers, will remain important, Clostridium difficile is a spore and cannot be killed by the alcohol found in these products.

Hospitals have started using bleach-based options that are known to kill Clostridium difficile. Some are even using UV devices.