Fears global antibiotic shortage is causing rise in C. difficile infections at West Suffolk Hospital

West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: ARCHANT

West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Experts at West Suffolk Hospital fear a global shortage of a widely used antibiotic has fuelled a rise in the number of patients contracting a nasty infection.

Nick Jenkins, West Suffolk Hospital's medical director. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Nick Jenkins, West Suffolk Hospital's medical director. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

In October the trust reported six Clostridium difficile cases in four separate areas of the Bury St Edmunds hospital, which was the highest level recorded since March 2012.

Symptoms of the infection include diarrhoea, stomach cramps, feeling sick, weight loss and a fever.

West Suffolk Hospital has recognised this increase could be down to an international drought in Tazocin, which has required the use of other antibiotics associated with a higher risk of developing Clostridium difficile.

The trust’s medical director, Nick Jenkins, said: “Clostridium difficile, or ‘C. difficile’ as it’s more commonly known, is a bacterium that’s found in people’s intestines. It can be found in healthy people where it causes no symptoms, but in some people, particularly those whose immune systems are compromised, the bacteria can sometimes multiply to unusually high levels when they’re on antibiotics.

“The main symptom is diarrhoea, but the condition is treatable.

“One of the antibiotics that we routinely use to treat infections is called Tazocin (Tazobactam with Piperacillin), which works well at treating infection and has a lower risk of causing rises in the gut bacteria that can cause C. difficile. There has however been a national shortage of Tazocin supply; whilst we’re able to use alternative antibiotics in its place which are still effective at treating infection, we’re considering whether this could be a contributory factor to the rise in C. difficile cases we have seen.

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“Whilst we have seen a rise in C. difficile cases, our numbers are generally low. We continue to monitor each case closely, and take infection prevention and control issues very seriously.”

A Department of Health spokesman confirmed there had been a global shortage of Tazocin earlier this year due to a “supply issues”, but said the problem had been resolved this summer and it was now “readily available to meet NHS demand”.

A spokesman for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals said the trusts were “fully aware” of the shortage and staff had been encouraged to reduce its use – but assured there had been no rise in C. difficle cases at either site.