Intestinal Infections Are Killing More Americans

Hospital-borne infections have been a problem for years, and drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) have become household names. However, a New York Times article highlights another virus that is causing a high rate of death among children and the elderly. The article provides some insight into how the medical community could help decrease the number of deaths.

Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus and in recent years has become the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis. And while many of the symptoms caused by norovirus mimic that of the flu or a severe cold, e.g. nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain; epidemiologist Aron Hall warns, “I think there is perhaps a misperception that norovirus causes a mild illness; . . . [it is] a major problem that requires some attention.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year norovirus causes over 20 million illnesses, leads to 70,000 hospitalizations, and results in 800 deaths. In addition, norovirus is the most common cause of food disease outbreaks in the U.S. Because norovirus has much in common with C. difficile, a bacterial infection, medical officials are examining the ways hospitals and nursing homes have tried to combat the spread of C. diff to try and help reduce the spread of norovirus.

The best way to prevent both norovirus and C. diff is by practicing good hygiene habits, such as proper hand washing and maintaining a clean, sanitary environment. And because both infections spread easily and quickly, containment is key. Hospital officials have determined that cleaning with bleach and increasing the use of gloves has done much to limit the spread of C. diff. This is because C. diff is extremely difficult to get rid of once it is on a given surface; simply cleaning your hands with soap and water will not remove it. Therefore, in order to prevent the spread of C. diff, hospitals must go above and beyond the standard most people enforce in their homes.

The good news is that C. diff does not normally start at home; rather an estimated 75 percent of C. diff cases start in hospitals, while the other 25 percent start in nursing homes. Between 2000 and 2009, the incidents of C. diff in hospitals rose from 139,000 to 336,000 and are now estimated to cost the U.S. $1 billion a year.

The CDC reports that the preventive measures of cleaning with bleach and wearing gloves have decreased incidents of C. diff by 20 percent. This is great news both for decreasing the reports of C. diff and of norovirus. Given the lack of vaccines or treatment for either infection, preventive measures are our best bet in decreasing the numbers of infected people. And in the case of norovirus, which has been shown to spread rapidly in any sort of environment where people are living in close proximity, such as dormitories, or cruise ships, hospitals are not the only facilities that should be taking notice.


Grady, Denise. “Gut Infections Are Growing More Lethal.” The New York Times. 19 March 2012.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home abuse cases and Cook County medical negligence cases for more than 40 years for individuals and families in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Wheaton, West Chicago, Inverness, Des Plaines, Skokie, and Bolingbrook.

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