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Colon infections seen rising

NEW YORK -- Cases of colon inflammation caused by a drug-resistant strain of bacteria more than doubled among US hospital patients from 1993 through 2003, doctors said.

Cases of Clostridium difficile colitis, which causes severe diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, rose to 43,531 in 2003 from 17,058 in 1993, according to a study in the Archives of Surgery journal. Death rates from the condition rose over the same time period.

Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is a drug-resistant germ that lives quietly in the gut of about 1 to 3 percent of healthy adults. It thrives when other bacteria in the colon are killed off. As a result, overuse of antibiotics may be making C. difficile more dangerous and harder to treat, researchers said.

"Treating everything with antibiotics, whether or not it needs an antibiotic, is likely to make this infection even more prevalent," said Rocco Ricciardi, an assistant professor at Tufts University's Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., who led the study. "This is a real public health problem."

C. difficile causes 3 million cases of colitis, or gut inflammation, in the United States each year, according to the findings. More studies are needed to determine how the infection spreads, Ricciardi said.

"The number of people with the disease has gone up and the number of people who have the disease and subsequently die has increased substantially," said Ricciardi.

Researchers in the study analyzed patient discharge information from a database of US hospitals between 1993 and 2003. The database included information from 1,000 hospitals in 35 states.

Out of more than 78 million patient discharges over 11 years, almost 300,000 people were diagnosed with C. difficile colitis. Of those, more than 26,000, or 8.8 percent, died, the researchers found.

Between 1993 and 2003, the number of people with the infection who died in the study more than doubled, to 50.2 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2003 from 20.3.