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CDC: Deaths Rise From Serious Stomach Bugs, Mainly In Elderly

Clostridium difficile colonies after 48 hours of growth on a blood agar plate. (L. V. Holdeman / CDC Public Health Image Library)
Clostridium difficile colonies after 48 hours of growth on a blood agar plate. (L. V. Holdeman / CDC Public Health Image Library)

This just in from the CDC: Between 1999 and 2007, deaths from stomach inflammation more than doubled — mainly because of virulent new strains of a bacteria called C. difficile. The hugely common norovirus also killed several hundred people a year out of the 20 million it infected. The vast majority of those who died were over 65.

One of our most popular recent posts was Aayesha Siddiqui's primer on How to Outsmart The Stealty Stomach Bug — I think I'll read it again right now. From the CDC:

The number of people who died from gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes vomiting and diarrhea) more than doubled from 1999 to 2007, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings will be presented today at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.
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Over the eight-year study period, gastroenteritis-associated deaths from all causes increased from nearly 7,000 to more than 17,000 per year. Adults over 65 years old accounted for 83 percent of deaths. Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and norovirus were the most common infectious causes of gastroenteritis-associated deaths.

There was a fivefold increase, from approximately 2,700 to 14,500 deaths per year, for C. difficile, a type of bacteria often associated with health care settings. C difficile, which causes diarrhea, accounted for two-thirds of the deaths. Much of the recent increase in the incidence and mortality of C. difficile is attributed to the emergence and spread of a hypervirulent, resistant strain of C. difficile.

Norovirus was associated with about 800 deaths annually, though there were 50 percent more deaths in years when epidemics were caused by new strains of the virus. Norovirus is highly contagious. It spreads through person-to-person contact and contaminated food, water, and surfaces. People can get norovirus illness throughout the year, but cases peaked between December-February. Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually, and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States.

"While C. difficile continues to be the leading contributor to gastroenteritis-associated deaths, this study shows for the first time that norovirus is likely the second leading infectious cause," said Hall. “Our findings highlight the need for effective measures to prevent, diagnose, and manage gastroenteritis, especially for C. difficile and norovirus among the elderly.”

More bad stomach news from the CDC: Foodborne disease outbreaks linked to imported foods also appear to be on the rise.

This program aired on March 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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