Author: Christian John Lillis
My mother loved children. Me and my brother Liam, her 12 godchildren, and the 24 children she taught each year in her kindergarten class. We lost Mom at just 56 years old to a Clostridium difficile infection in April 2010. In response to her death, we started the Peggy Lillis Foundation to raise C. diff awareness.
That is why we are both distressed and pleased by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new paper on C. diff infections in children. Distressed that so many children are suffering but pleased that the paper explodes a piece of C. diff mythology that persists in our healthcare system, where even some physicians cling to a dangerous notion that children don’t get C. diff.
The CDC finding that 17,000 children contract the disease each year, most outside of healthcare settings, is a call to action for healthcare providers. Clinicians should consider whether symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, cramping, and painful diarrhea might be indications of C. diff. When prescribing antibiotics to kids, they should ask themselves whether the drug is absolutely necessary, since antibiotic exposure is a key risk factor for C. diff.
This report also alerts parents to ask doctors whether symptoms they can plainly see are severe and out of the ordinary might be signs of a C. diff infection, especially if their child has recently taken an antibiotic. In the presence of such symptoms, especially when initial treatments don’t work, parents should ask about a stool test.
In 2013, the CDC declared C. diff. an "urgent" public-health threat, placing it first on the list of critical dangers to Americans. But many reports of C. diff focus on adults and seniors in long-term care settings, leading to ignorance of its risks to younger patients.
Angela G., a Brooklyn mother, found this out the hard way when her kids were five and two. Spotting symptoms like fever and diarrhea, she took them to a pediatrician who insisted they had a stomach flu. After escalating symptoms, repeated visits, and finally a trip to the emergency room, a test resulted in the proper diagnosis: C. diff.
"As parents, we know in our gut if something is not right with our children," Angela G. says. Parents "need to not take anything for granted. We need to be advocates for our children and our loved ones."
The CDC report makes clear that C. diff. poses a particular challenge for infants between the age of 12 and 24 months, just as many are beginning to walk.
"This infection was a beast. It totally took over [his] body. He stopped eating," she says, and had "numerous and horrible diarrhea-like bowel movements throughout the day. His weight was suffering. He wasn’t growing."
After a regimen that finally ridded her son of the bug, Del Re has emerged with a message that echoes Angela G. "As a mother, I want other parents to know if you have a gut feeling something is not right with your child, seek help immediately. Ask lots of questions. No question is stupid or silly. We are our children’s best advocates.”