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C. diff survivor and advocate shares her story

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Nancy Caralla
Nancy Caralla

Guest Author: Nancy C Caralla
Founding Executive Director,
President of the C Diff Foundation.

My name is Nancy Caralla, and I know all too much about Clostridium difficile (C. diff).  I am a nurse and contracted C. diff while caring for patients suffering from this horrible infection. Now, I am a C. diff survivor. Tragically, our family lost my father from C. diff, too. I know how fighting a C. diff infection can be exhausting on so many levels. It is a physically, mentally, and financially debilitating infection. It has the ability to steal away a loved one, tear away dreams, create added stress on families, diminish financial nest eggs, eliminate employment opportunities, build geographic mobility limitations, and create tears in even the strongest individuals. All aspects of one’s being are involved in fighting a C. diff infection. This is why I have dedicated myself to “Raising C. diff Awareness” worldwide.

The C diff Foundation was brought to fruition in 2012 with a mission to provide education and advocate for C. diff infection prevention, treatment, and environmental safety worldwide. It provides Antibiotic News, Nutrition Support, Government and private Scientific Research and Development Studies, and a CDF Volunteer program. The C diff Foundation hosts a 24-hour hotline to support patients, families, and health care providers through the difficulties of a C. diff infection (1-844-FOR-CDIF).

Our hotline now gets 20-30 calls a day from individuals impacted by this germ. These are some of the most common questions we get asked: 

How do antibiotics cause C. diff?

The antibiotics cause a disruption in the normal intestinal flora which leads to an over growth of Clostridium difficile bacteria in the colon. In November 2012, CDC shared a public announcement regarding antibiotic use: colds and many ear and sinus infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Taking antibiotics to treat a “virus” can make those drugs less-effective when you and your family really need them. Limiting the usage of antibiotics will also help limit new cases of C. diff infections. Always discuss the symptoms and medications with the treating physician. Get smart about antibiotics by looking at CDC’s materials online. 

What can we do to stop C. diff?

We can all fight acquiring a C. diff infection beginning with prevention, and C. diff is a preventable infection.

Hand-washing (aka hand-hygiene) practiced and repeated frequently with correct technique aids removes harmful germs, provides patient safety, and adheres to infection control policies.

Environmental safety: Utilizing EPA registered products with “C. diff kill” claim will aid in eradicating Clostridium difficile Gram-positive, anaerobic spores, found to be capable of surviving outside of the body for long periods of time.

As a healthcare professional, how do I protect myself from C. diff?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): During the care of a patient diagnosed with a C. diff infection, following infection-control policies, healthcare and environmental service professionals are to wear PPE to minimize exposure to serious workplace illnesses (acute care, long-term care, and home care environments). PPE may include items such as gloves, shoe coverings, and gowns.

Communication:  Contacting and alerting other healthcare facilities, prior to transferring a patient, to report an active C. diff infection to implement and follow contact precautions and isolation policies.

C. diff Foundation
C. diff Foundation

We can all fight acquiring a C. diff infection. C. diff is preventable, and together we can stop its spread.

For more information please visit the Foundation’s website: www.cdifffoundation.org.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

14 comments on “C. diff survivor and advocate shares her story”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Your blog is very nice and I like it your blog keep sharing with your new article….

    As a wound ostomy nurse for a large hospital, I have contracted c.diff three times in the last two years.

    I am a daily probiotic user and am ultra vigilent about using PPE on positively identied patients. I realize that exposure happens throughout the entire hospital, elevator buttons, telephones, computer keyboards, etc. Almost daily, I witness family members coming out of rooms who are not gowned and gloved, and for selfish reasons, I get angry. I can’t control the actions of family members who refuse to adhere to the policies, and with an increased importance on patient satisfaction and customer service, staff nurses are placed in a difficult position of confronting and educating families about the risks. Our facility owns a UV spore killer, but I am not confident that it is utilized regularly.

    I am seriously contemplating leaving direct patient care and the hospital environment for my own health safety. The idea of this devastates me. I can certainly use full gowned PPE for every patient I see, regardless of their official precaution status, but that effort does seem exhausting. I would appreciate any ideas or insight you have to offer.

    Thank you for sharing your mom’s story. We are very sorry to hear about her illness. We encourage you to consult with an infectious disease specialist about your mom’s illness. If you have additional questions about C. difficile, you can contact us at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/dcs/RequestForm.aspx.

    My Mom is also someone that is struggling with CDIF. She has had it now 3 times, performed the fecal transplant just a little over a 10 days ago and now is starting to show signs of it again. She was in a rehab center but she kept getting it there a few days after she was off of antibiotics for CDIF. She was the. Hospitalized due to it and that’s when we decided to go with transplant. She’s only 70 and can’t seem to get this taken care of. Is there anything that she/we can do to help her out? She gets very so k at her stomach when she has it and stomach pains. She’s already lost almost 50 pounds due to this all. Any help or suggestions would be much appreciated. We are at a loss of words on how to help her!!!

    I had no knowledge about this site and the quantum of work going on in this direction. Really commendable to reiterate the basics of hygiene which we as practioners become careless.
    My best wishes for the knowledge being generated and let this go to many such minds

    CDC guideline “If hands are not visibly soiled, use an alcohol-based hand rub for routinely decontaminating hands…..”
    Why not make washing with soap/antiseptic and water the number one option for hand hygiene in order to wash away transient pathogens that are easily washed away e.g. VRE, MRSA, ESBL’s and C.diff spores. Alcohol does not wash away pathogens and does not kill C. diff spores.
    Alcohol hand agents lead to a 1 to 2 log reduction and that is in question in the following publication; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1181814/
    Health Care Workers (HCW) can help stop the spread of dangerous transient pathogens (e.g. C. diff) that are not visible on hands by making washing with soap and water their first option.
    Transient pathogens are easily washed away and most times are not visible on HCW’s hands!

    I am so aware of this as I too have had friends pass away from his disease. I tell the younger ones at work all the time to be very careful taking antibiotics for every little thing that comes your way. Although tests to see what your infection is should be done before you go on ANY antibiotic, this is not always done. Causing us to get too much of the wrong antibiotics. Doctors feel helpless sometimes and give antibiotics way to freely. I believe it is because Doctors get tired of hearing the flack- back when they say ” you must let this run its course”. So don’t complain. When someone says, it’s a cold. Believe it could be. Colds last at least 7 days. After 7 days, see a physician. And, be consistent with washing your hands after elimination, or when you have been in public places. Even sanitizers can help! ALWAYS ,Teach your children good hygiene. This is a great topic.Thank you.

    As a Registered Nurse and Infection Preventionist, I cannot stress enough the importance of hand washing to healthcare professionals. Wearing gloves when caring for an individual with Clostridium difficile is not good enough. It’s so very important to perform hand hygiene before and after removing gloves, as the gloves work to create a physical barrier between the environment and the healthcare worker’s hands. Although gloves do provide protection, there is always the possibility of micro-holes. Soap and water after removal of gloves is the way to physically remove the C. diff spores by application of friction while washing and the rinsing of the hands in a running stream of water-using caution to turn off faucets with a clean, dry paper towel. Continued education for healthcare professionals, patients, visitors and the public in general about the importance of good hand hygiene is so very important to help prevent transmission of infections.
    Thank you Nancy for sharing your story. I think it helps others understand the impact of this terrible infection.

    Thank you for explaining this insidious infection, its impact and prevention so clearly. I would be interested in a brochure on the topic, for distribution.

    M. Hendrickson

    Nurses are doing Staying on top of quality issues in critical access hospitals has never been more important. Reporting on them may soon be required. And reimbursement changes—due to health care reform—are affecting everyone. You can’t afford to have falls or infection rate increases affecting your bottom line one Life saving is whole world Life saving but we are not apprising as has to be.

    Generating fear of taking antibiotics is not right approach against prevention.
    Judicious prescribing practice by medical fraternity requires to be instigated amongst
    Medical teachers so as to deeply inculcate that amongst young graduates, by more course hours for this topic.

    My mother is 84 years old and was in good health until she fell and broke her upper arm last September. She ended up being hospitalized because the broken bone necessitated that her shoulder be replaced. She did fine in the hospital but then transferred to a rehab facility where she contracted C. difficile. She has been treated at least 5 times for it in the last 5 months and it has always returned within one week of discontinuing the antibiotics. She is currently on a tapering regimen of vancomycin and we shall see how that works when she finishes her pills.

    One thing that really upsets me is that many providers do not seem to be informed of the facts about C. difficile and my mother has suffered because of that. The latest thing to have happened is that she contracted a UTI during her latest bout of C. difficile and her doctor refused to treat it for fear of the antibiotics exacerbating her C. difficile. I was very concerned that she’d end up with urosepsis due to the untreated UTI and get hospitalized and contract other nosocomial infections, none of which would probably end well. I consulted an infectious diseases doc about this and he said that she could end up very ill and needed to be treated for her UTI. I then had to figure out how to get her a prescription for antibiotics because her doc would not give her one. Fortunately, she had gone to another doctor the day before who prescribed appropriate antibiotics for her UTI and she began taking them. However, her regular doctor called to tell her to stop taking them. I had to tell her to keep taking them and I hated to undermine her faith in her doctor, but I felt she was at great risk to get even a worse illness.

    I know other patients have probably had their care mishandled due to lack of knowledge about this infection from their providers. I am so fearful that her recent treatment will fail again. Two of my friends’ mothers have died from C. difficile infection and I don’t want my mom to join that club. It really does almost seem hopeless.

    I am a C Diff survivor and would like to help as an advocate for reporting systems in all states. During my illness, I learned that the State of Florida does not require hospitals, physicians, etc. to report to anyone, i.e., State Health Department, that a case of C Diff is active in their hospital or patient.

    I could not even get the Hospital Administrator to return my call to inquire if he even knew that I had contracted it while in his hospital.

    Without this tracking system, how can preventative measures be checked and improved? How can hospitals, physicians know that training of staff and disinfection of facilities/equipment is required ASAP.

    I ended up opting for a fecal transplant and I hope that, along with my newfound vigilance, will improve my chances of not being re-infected.

    Please let me know how I can help with making sure reporting and followup is required.

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