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Why Dr. Phil’s Discussion of Clostridium Difficile Is So Important

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On Dec. 3, 2019, Dr. Phil aired an episode about the dangerous and life-threatening bacterial infection, Clostridium difficile (C. diff). In the middle of my own personal battle with this terrifying superbug, I recognized the importance of bringing attention to this harmful infection.

During the program, Dr. Phil interviewed a woman named Dayle who lost her mother and grandmother to C. diff. Dayle had also contracted the disease and shared her story of recovery. Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Pfizer’s Chief Patient Officer, was present to provide information about how C. diff is acquired and what we can to prevent infection.

C. diff is a highly contagious bacterium. It causes inflammation of the colon and delivers an array of symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. It can lead to serious complications or even death if not properly treated.

During this program, Dayle and Dr. Lewis-Hall clarify common misconceptions about C. diff.

In the past, doctors assumed C. diff could only be contracted by a stay in the hospital, nursing home or other healthcare facility. These are risk factors; however, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall explains that today, we know many C. diff infections are “caught or acquired” in the community.

C. diff is spread through fecal matter. This means an individual can potentially infect themselves by touching contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs, toilet seats, shopping carts, etc.

Dr. Lewis-Hall educates us on how to protect ourselves from contracting this infection. It can live on surfaces, including fabrics, for long periods of time. Proper hygiene is imperative. Washing your hands with soap and water is critical as alcohol-based sanitizers will not kill C. diff germs.

Dr. Lewis-Hall confirms the disease is more common in elderly patients, but anyone can be affected. She emphasizes that recurrence of this   disease is not uncommon. C. diff bacterium is stubborn and tenacious. In many cases, it can and will return multiple times.

In fact, Dayle was a young woman when she acquired C. diff.  She experienced a relapse before finally reaching recovery.

Other risk factors include antibiotic use, which can upset the balance of good bacteria in our gut. (Strangely enough, the treatment for C. diff is antibiotics.) Dr. Lewis-Hall stresses to only “take antibiotics as directed” by your doctor.

I was pleased that Dr. Phil addressed Clostridium difficile on his talk show. However, the public needs more insight into prevention and the recovery process.

Antibiotic prescription and use are key points which I believe need more consideration by patients and the medical community.

Healthcare providers need to reevaluate when and how antibiotics are prescribed in order to prevent future complications, including C. diff. As patients, we must take responsibility for ourselves and question medical professionals, working with them before deciding or agreeing to a treatment plan. Oftentimes, there are alternative solutions that may work equally as well or better.

“Taking antibiotics as directed” is excellent advice…except when it’s possible that antibiotics are not needed in the first place.

Some patients will contract C. diff, receive treatment and recover without further complication. For others, restoration of gut health and digestion is a nightmare which can take months or even years to reclaim. Post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can settle in, producing many of the same symptoms as C. diff.

Oftentimes, dietary and lifestyle changes are required to help with the healing process.

Numerous patients need several courses of treatment and even then, the infection still returns. Fecal matter transplants (FMTs) or surgery may be necessary to recover.

I am currently fighting to recover from a C. diff infection. I am not a geriatric patient. I had not taken a course of antibiotics or spent time in the hospital when I was diagnosed with C. diff.  For these reasons, I felt recognized and validated by Dr. Lewis-Hall’s information regarding  community acquisition of this illness.

I have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics and am still working on the recovery process.

C. diff is an obstinate and dangerous superbug. Dr. Phil and his guests furnished crucial information to viewers regarding this bacterium. Although the clip was short and to the point, it highlighted many important aspects about how this disease is acquired or spread and worked to bolster public awareness.

To watch the full segment on Dr. Phil, click here.

Image captured via Youtube.

Originally published: January 17, 2020
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