More than 80 percent of deaths in the United States associated with Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, occurred in individuals aged 65 years or older, according to a study released in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found that one out of every three C. difficile infections occurs in individuals age 65 and older, and two out of every three health care-associated infections occur in patients age 65 and older.
The inflammation of the colon and deadly diarrhea caused by a C. difficile infection, or CDI, affect over 100,000 nursing home residents annually, according to the CDC. Women and Caucasian individuals have the highest risk for infection. Antibiotic use increases an individual’s risk for developing a CDI. Because the elderly are likely to be using antibiotics for long periods of time to treat chronic health issues, nursing homes and long-term care facilities are at high risk for C. difficile outbreaks, explains the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, or APUA. In addition, aging causes changes in the composition of native gut bacteria, another factor that makes elderly individuals more susceptible to C. difficile infections.
An individual usually develops a CDI after taking antibiotics and being exposed to the C. difficile bacterial spores in a contaminated environment, notes APUA. The spores may be present on a health care worker’s hands or on shared equipment. Because hand washing and alcohol-based or antimicrobial hand sanitizers don't kill C. difficile spores, caregivers should wear gloves and disinfect their hands after removing the gloves.