Public 'should be screened for superbug'

Members of the public should be screened for the 'superbug' Clostridium difficile (C difficile) before they are admitted to hospital, an expert has said today.

Dr John Starr, reader in geriatric medicine at the University of Edinburgh, believes that screening could be one way of helping to control rising rates of infection of C difficile.

Government statistics estimate that there was a 69 per cent increase in the number of death certificates mentioning C difficile from 2004 to 2005. Recent figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) revealed that more than 50,000 inpatients aged 65 years and over have C difficile infections.

This number is likely to keep on rising, Dr Starr warns in today's British Medical Journal (BMJ), because the population is ageing and the elderly are the most at risk.

It is estimated that five per cent of the population carry C difficile without any ill effects.

"More than 13,000 cases of community acquired C difficile occur each year in the UK, three quarters of which are in people who have not been in hospital during the previous year," Dr Starr writes.

"This raises the question of whether C difficile can still be thought of as purely a hospital acquired infection and, if not, whether other infection control measures are needed, such as screening people in the community before they are admitted electively."

Current methods of preventing the spread of C difficile include hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, antibiotics and isolation of infected patients.

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