A new study has revealed details on why C-Diff is becoming a serious issue. The breakthrough regarding the deadly superbug could lead to new ways of combatting the toxin.
According to research by scientists from UCLA and Harvard University published in the Journal Gastroenterology, the widespread bacteria are known to cause serious gut infections is evolving to take advantage of high-sugar diets in the West and resist disinfecting methods used in healthcare settings. The researchers pinpointed which part of the toxic protein can permeate cell membranes to gain entry to cellular structures called endosomes, demonstrating that even fragments of the protein containing that crucial segment can access endosomes.
Fatal For Elderly and Very Sick
The diarrhea and colitis-causing bacteria Clostridioides difficile, or C. Diff, is common throughout our environment and results in nearly 500,000 infections in the U.S. each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, which can be fatal for elderly and very sick people who have been hospitalized or given antibiotics.
According to Mayo Clinic, C. Diff spores are often spread orally by contact with feces, making their way to food and other surfaces when an infected person fails to thoroughly wash their hands. The spores damage the lining of your intestine, potentially leading to severely dehydrating diarrhea, inflammation of the intestines, toxic megacolon, and sepsis.
Diff is so ordinary in our surroundings that even some healthy adults will carry it in their system but are protected from severe symptoms by their healthy gut bacteria, The Atlantic reported. But antibiotics used to treat other infections can unintentionally eliminate the healthy bacteria, allowing C. diff to thrive, cause an infection, and spread to the environment when passed in diarrhea.
Evolving Into Two Species
Recent research has shown that C. Diff can spread to and exist for months on disposable hospital gowns, stainless steel, and vinyl surfaces often found in health facilities, even after being hit with concentrated chlorine disinfectant. A new study by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine might have revealed why. The study found that C. Diff has been evolving into two species over thousands of years, one of which is adapting into a superbug primed to spread in hospitals. Study author Nitin Kumar, a senior bioinformatician at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said:
“The study shows how the pathogen C. Difficile is evolving in response to the Western sugary diet and common hospital disinfectants.”
For the study, published this week in Nature Genetics, the researchers sequenced 906 different C DNA. Diff strains from humans, other mammals such as dogs and pigs, and the environment. Kumar told Live Science that groups of organisms must share 95 percent of their genomes to be considered the same species, and based on the sequenced genomes, C. Diff is “on the verge of speciation.”
Changed How It Formed Spores
The researchers found that one of the emerging species, C. Difficile clade A, was found in 70 percent of hospital patients’ samples. A common trait of the new species was a mutation developed over thousands of years to improve sugar metabolism. When exposed to mice, the new species was more likely to flourish if the mice were fed diets enriched with simple sugars, like glucose and fructose, commonly consumed as part of the typical Western diet.
Common hospital foods, such as pudding cups and mashed potatoes, could become hotspots for this new C. Diff. Species. The new species also had genetic mutations that changed how it formed spores, making it more resistant to hospitals’ disinfectants. Senior author Trevor Lawley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute said in a press release:
“Our study provides genome and laboratory-based evidence that human lifestyles can drive bacteria to form new species so they can spread more effectively […] we show that strains of C. Difficile bacteria have continued to evolve in response to modern diets and healthcare healthcare systems and reveal that focusing on diet and looking for new disinfectants could help in the fight against this bacteria.”
Spreading Through Health-Care Facilities
The study reveals that for decades, researchers have focused on the wrong toxin that is released by the bacteria in the colon. The toxin can cause severe diarrhea and life-threatening colitis that could lead to the colon’s surgical removal.
“For 20 years, we have been focusing on Toxin A. But it turns out the real culprit is Toxin B […]. This is a major finding in how C-diff causes disease in humans. It completely flips our whole concept of what the important toxin is with this disease.”
C-diff is a spore-forming bacterium discovered in 1978 to be the cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and colitis. It is rapidly spreading through healthcare facilities around the globe. When the normal bacteria that live in the colon are disturbed, usually due to antibiotic treatment, and a patient ingests C-diff spores, the bacteria can multiply and release the two toxins.
Spores That Contaminate the Hospital Environment
C-diff sickens about 500,000 Americans a year, contributing to 15,000 to 20,000 deaths. The epidemic strain has been found in 38 states, including Illinois. It now rivals the superbug known as MRSA as one of the top emerging disease threats to humans. Since its discovery, C-diff has grown increasingly resistant to antibiotics. However, it appears more often in younger people. Those 65 years and older face a greater risk of developing an infection from C-diff and has more severe outcomes and higher death rates.
Symptoms of C-diff include profuse diarrhea and abdominal pain, and distention of the abdomen. Infection is also frequently accompanied by fever, nausea, and dehydration. In some rare cases, blood may be present in the stool. The infection is spread by spores that contaminate the hospital environment and hands of healthcare workers who can transmit the spores to patients.
The spores’ resistance to hospital cleaning agents and alcohol hand disinfectants makes it extremely difficult to eradicate. This shows the importance of trying telehealth Apps such as the Global Telehealth Exchange (GTHE), which enables you to consult with a doctor from the comfort of your home.